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Mutual Aid in West, Texas

The tragedy that struck the community of West, Texas, (population 2,819) has been somewhat lost in the media flurry and public fury surrounding the Boston Marathon bombings. The entire nation has embraced the “Boston Strong” theme – and rightly so. While the senseless terrorist attack occurred in Boston, every American city and citizen was the target. To paraphrase the words of Red Sox slugger David “Big Papi” Ortiz, “This is our nation and no one is going to take away the freedoms and values we hold dear.” Having spent a considerable amount of time in Boston, I have no doubt the folks there will quickly rally to heal their collective physical and psychological wounds.

I’ve only driven through West, Texas, once – on a very long drive moving our younger son from Chicago to San Antonio. We were both struck by the billboard advertising Czech bakeries, delicatessens, and “Westfest” – a Labor Day celebration of Czech culture. Like most small towns in Texas and across the country, its most distinguishing feature is the relationships between the families that live there – the “social capital” that binds communities together. And at the core of those values is unspoken but well understood fraternal concept of “mutual aid.”

My guess is that the majority of the folks that live in and around West are members of one or more societies. SPJST alone has two lodges and more than 1,500 members living in the area. Other Czech-based fraternals – Catholic Union of Texas (The KJT), Catholic Family Fraternal of Texas, KJZT, and Western Fraternal Life Association – are also likely to have members in the community. And no doubt, Knights of Columbus (whose local hall is being used to store relief supplies) and San Antonio-based Catholic Life Insurance also have a presence there.


The families of the 14 individuals who died in the industrial explosion – most of them first responders – will no doubt appreciate the financial support that will come from the life insurance coverage their loved ones owned. Those funds may help keep families in their homes, keep food on the table, and send children to college. The financial security that fraternals provide their members through insurance products is critically important – and one of the most overlooked benefits of membership. We don’t need to downplay the fact that being a financial services provider is one of the primary functions of being a fraternal.

But the real impact – the one that extends beyond financial support for the surviving family members – is the helping hands that fraternal members will provide one another (and everyone else in the community who needs them) to rebuild their town and their lives. It’s this “social capital” that is never mentioned in the media and virtually impossible to value that sets fraternals apart from their commercial insurance company competitors. Because being a fraternal means more than collecting premiums and paying claims. It means members share a responsibility to help one another cope with unimaginable losses that dollars simply can’t replace.

Please note that SPJST has established the West Benevolence Fund to help those community members in need. 100 percent of funds collected will be applied toward relief efforts. Organizations and individuals who wish to contribute may do so by visiting www.spjst.org.

5 Responses

  1. Dear Joe,

    Thank you for posting and for your kind attention in the hours following the explosion. Please know that I am meeting today with four lodge presidents whose members were most affected.

    SPJST has been in the West community for more than 100 years. As such, our commitment is for the long haul. Please know that we will keep you update on developments as they unfold.

    Brian Vanicek
    SPJST President

    • Dear Joe,

      As a follow-up:

      In the six days since the massive explosion rocked and devastated a large portion of the City of West,Texas, caring individuals and groups from around the state and across the country have opened their hearts to provide essential goods, services and financial support. SPJST officials met with the presidents of West area SPJST lodges on Monday to begin the process of assessing the role that the greater Society will play in contributing to the stabilization and rebuilding efforts in the community.

      The overwhelming response of those closest to the disaster is that prayers, compassion and financial assistance are most needed. SPJST expresses thanks to everyone gave early and generously to the West Benevolence Fund. Paypal began logging gifts on the morning after the disaster. Yesterday, the first checks directed to the recovery effort began to arrive in the mail. Local lodge leadership will be directing the dispersal of funds collected.

      Moving forward, efforts will be coordinated by West-area lodge presidents working with West city officials and the SPJST Home Office to identify opportunities for members and other caring individuals and groups seeking to join hands to provide physical assistance in what looks to be a prolonged rebuilding effort. That information will be posted on the SPJST Facebook page, SPJST website and in the Vestnik as it becomes available.

      The road to recovery for the residents of West is long and has only just begun. Your help will be greatly appreciated. May we continue to keep the community of West and especially those who suffered loss in our thoughts and in our prayers.

      Brian Vanicek
      SPJST President

  2. Joe:

    The Knights of Columbus council in West Texas has 500 members. The Supreme Council has sent a $10,000 donation to be used in West, and have set up a on-line giving link on our web page. All donations will be sent for relief as needed thru Texas State Council. More info on our website http://www.kofc.org.

    Charles E. Maurer Jr.
    Supreme Secretary
    Knights of Columbus

  3. Joe: Catholic Life Insurance also has a large number of members in the area. We have been in contact daily with many of them and have recommended our members make immediate donations to the American Red Cross and Catholic Charities of Central Texas.

    Like SPJST, we are in for the long haul so we expect to be working with our members and the community for a long time to help them get back on their feet.

  4. Joe: Hermann Sons also has members in the West, Texas, area. The Grand Lodge officers have authorized a $1,000 donation to the fund established by SPJST and has established its own Helping West Recover – First Responders Fund. Donations to this fund will be given to the West Fire Department to help it replace the equipment lost in the explosion.

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