EAGLE GROVE - When people think of Shriners, chances are pretty good they think of guys in funny hats, riding or driving funny vehicles in local parades.
While that may be true, they are much more than that.
"Our biggest project and interest is raising funds for the 22 Shrine hospitals in the United States, Mexico and Canada," said Rod Heiden, president of the 31-member Wright County Shrine Club, a position he has held since 2008.
The local group is part of the larger El Kahir, based in Cedar Rapids, with nearly 900 members.
Of 1.5 million nonprofit groups in the United States, Shriners are rated No. 5 in the ratio of dollars collected and reinvested in their volunteer work.
"Ninety-six cents of every dollar we raise are given to charity," he said. "Most of the transportation of patients to Shrine hospitals are provided by Shriners as volunteers."
Heiden is following in his grandfather Al Benson's footsteps as Shrine member.
"He was a real role model for me," he said.
Raising funds and then seeing that children make use of the hospital services are number one on every Shriner's mind.
"It is hard for me to comprehend that it takes $2.3 million a day to keep all of our hospitals functioning," said Heiden.
Who qualifies to go to Shrine hospitals?
"Any child 18 years and under, regardless of income," he said. "If a child is already in the system, then they can be seen until they are 21."
The closest hospital to the area is the Shrine Hospital in Minneapolis. Children with orthopedic needs, burns, spinal cord injury, and cleft palate and palate care can all be seen at Shrine Hospitals.
Monthly, the Wright County Shrine Club meets for an opportunity to build relationships and to have some fun. They also work on a number of projects and fundraisers together.
"It takes all of the Shrine groups doing our part to make everything work," said Heiden.
The group has recently acquired vehicles which they are taking in local parades.
"We really have fun," said Heiden.
The club attempts to be in county parades and is invited to participate in other city parades, outside of Wright County.
"We ask for a modest donation which we use for support of hospitals or to transport children to the hospitals," Heiden said.
The group conducts several other fundraisers throughout the year.
Two major events for which many Iowa residents are aware: the annual Shrine circuses and the annual North vs. South Shrine Bowl, featuring some of the best football players and cheerleaders in their respective graduating classes the past spring.
"The athletes are picked, in part, because of their community service and academics, as well as their athletic abilities," said Heiden. "The game is played the third week of July, and is much more than one game. There is a week of events and activities. Athletes interact with Shrine patients. It is a wonderful time for everyone involved."
In the past, the game has been played at Iowa State University. But in 2013, the game will be hosted by University of Northern Iowa at the UNI dome.
Heiden invites anyone who would like to know more about how to become part of the Shrine or have help in getting a child care through a Shrine Hospital to contact him. He will direct them to the right information or go to the website www.beashrinernow.com .
"The Shrine Hospitals are there every day, whether they are being fully used or not," he said. "We want to pair up the children with a need, with the doctors and their staffs."