TYLER, TX (KLTV) - The Shriners Convention is kicking off Thursday in Tyler and is expected to bring fun and opportunities to support charities and local business to the city.
"We open our market hall at Harvey Hall, it's free to the public and we have various vendors from everything from hats to pens and stuff like that," Potentate Jim Tidwell said.
The Sharon Shriners chapter has been in Smith County since 1963 and are involved in a number of activities.
"Basically we are good people trying to help kids," Chief Rabban Scott Gates said. "All Shriners are Masons; that's actually the prerequisite for becoming a Shriner is that you are a Master Mason in good standing."
Their goal is to raise money in support of the 22 Shriner hospitals for children.
"We treat all children regardless of the parents' ability to pay, whether they have insurance or not. We'll never turn a kid away," he said.
There are 13 Shriner temples in Texas. During the 1980s, the Smith County temple had over 5,000 members. But membership has declined to just over 1,000 members.
"It's mainly due to the decrease in the masonic popularity; basically the fewer men become Masons, the fewer men are available to become Shriners," he said.
Members said they hope the convention will educate the public, not only about their organization, but most importantly about the children they help.
The public festivities kick off tomorrow at Harvey Convention Center at 9 a.m. and end Saturday with a parade at 9:30 a.m.