Each year, the Grand Masonic Lodge of New York funds various programs to provide identification for upwards of 25,000 people around the state.
Recently, one of those programs was held on the first floor of the Palisades Center mall outside H&M, sponsored by the Masons of Athelstane Lodge No. 839 F. & A.M., Pearl River, as well as the Masons of the Lower Hudson Valley Region. Many volunteers were Masons from other areas. While Saturday’s program was geared toward children, the Masons also hold programs to ID teenagers, seniors and others.
“There are more teens than children that go missing each year,” said Bruce Klein, chairperson of the Masonic Safety Identification Program. “So we try to get as many teens and college students ID’d as possible. We’ve also held events for seniors: at Jawonio, Big Brothers and Big Sisters. We try and make ourselves available to any organization that wants our help.”
Parents fill out a permission slip at one of the tables, allowing their child to go through the identification process. They fill out a form that includes the child’s name, nicknames, parents’ names, height, weight, any distinguishing physical traits, phone number, address, if they wear glasses and just anything that could help identify a child. Then the child has three digital photos taken, one from straight on, and one from each side view so there is a picture of each ear.
Lastly, a digital fingerprint is taken of the child. All of the information is put into a computer, printed out, checked over by the family and then uploaded onto a disk, which is given to the family. The information is deleted from the computer, and all that the Masons keep is the bottom of the form, the permission slip.
The program has been in place since 1991.
“It’s evolved since then,” said Ron Steiner, public relations committee chairman of the Grand Lodge of the State of New York. “For starters, we used to give the families VHS tapes.”
Steiner also said they used to take dental imprints of the kids, as well as some DNA.
Danielle and Manny Nietzel, of Congers, brought their 15-month-old daughter, Lyla, to get her ID done.
“We want it just in case, God forbid, anything were to happen to her,” Danielle Nietzel said.
Esther Thorne, 11, of Ramapo, went to get her ID disk as well, and knew about the program because her father was volunteering at it.
“If you get lost, your family can turn in this disc to the police and they’ll have a better chance of matching up with the kid,” she said. “They’ll be able to put out all this information on what the kid looks like, so it will help.”
The Masons provided ID disks for 106 children and three senior citizens. Seventeen masons, spouses and young adults assisted in the program.
"We consider this a successful effort in spite of the weather ... even one adult or child saved is worth the effort," said Steiner after the event.
The Masons have these events all throughout the year, all over Rockland and Orange Counties. The next one is Sunday Oct. 2 at the Congers-Valley Cottage Rotary Italian Festival. Another event is Oct. 12 at St. Augustine's in New City as part of a health fair.