LYNDEN - The members of Lynden Burial Society are in a race against time and death.
The nonprofit, burial-assistance program was founded in 1901 and has served generations of families since, many of them in the Lynden area. Families pay a membership fee, then pay a small sum, currently $11, to other member families that experience a death.
When there are enough members, those many small sums enable the family of the deceased to receive a discounted package of funeral services worth $3,250 at Gillies Funeral Home or Moles Good Steward Funerals, both in Lynden.
However, a slow but steady decline in the number of members means the society will have to dip into its reserves, or maybe reduce the payout to grieving families, unless there's an influx of new members to share the financial load.
"We've gotten to the critical mass; a lot of our members are older," said Leon Zweegman, a dairy farmer near Lynden and the society's board president. "If we don't get increased membership, we may not be able to cover the entire contracted cost we have with Moles and Gillies. I'm hoping we don't get to that."
The society once had more than 500 family memberships. A decade ago, it had 385 memberships. Today, it has about 240.
To boost its numbers, the society is offering free membership to people 40 and younger; and membership at half the usual cost to people 41 to 60. The offer is good through June 30.
Membership costs less for young people than it does for older people. For example, the regular membership fee for a 26-year-old is $50, rising to $140 for someone who is 40. The regular fee for a 41-year-old is $150, rising to $750 for someone who is 60.
Memberships include coverage for children. Once a parent joins - each spouse must pay a membership fee - then any children under age of 21 are also covered.
If a member family wants a more expensive funeral than the society pays for, the family pays the difference. The society package does not include burial plots.
Although the program began in Lynden and carries the city's name, it's open to anyone in Whatcom County, and beyond.
Families of members who die elsewhere receive $3,250 toward their funeral expenses wherever they are located. Sometimes, funeral homes elsewhere will provide discounted services to honor the family's membership in the society.
The society was formed by a group of Christians who came together to help a Lynden pastor who was not able to afford a burial for his daughter. That aspect of community sharing appeals to Lynden resident Helen Martin.
"The real focus is helping others," she said. "You're able to be part of a ministry to share the load."
Martin is a third-generation member who joined last year after her father died and was buried at Monumental Cemetery.
"That's when I really saw the benefit," she said. "When everybody gives a little bit, it lightens the load."
Lynden resident Heather Burger's parents have been members for some 25 years, but she joined just two months ago after her mother mentioned an upcoming society meeting. Burger is now a board member and hopes more people will learn about the society before it's too late.
"It's a really great program, but the information hasn't gotten out to the community," she said. "It's been around for a 100 years. I'd hate to see it disbanded."
For information about Lynden Burial Society, call 206-415-3650, go online to lyndenburial.x10.mx, or email Lyndenburial@yahoo.com.
The fee policy for spouses was corrected May 5, 2014.