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Knights Distribute 18,000 Jackets for the Homeless


by Andrew Butler

One encounter with the needy sparks a huge charitable project

Knights from Rancho Cucamonga Council 13403 deliver a jacket

Knights from Rancho Cucamonga Council 13403 deliver a jacket to a woman in need (Image courtesy Zaki Mustafa).

RANCHO CUCAMONGA, Calif. - Knights of Columbus members have distributed more than 18,000 jackets to the homeless through an organization called Transforming a Life.

The nonprofit organization is dedicated to bringing the basic necessities of life to the deprived and homeless. It was founded by Zaki Mustafa, a Knight from Rancho Cucamonga Council 13403, and his wife Loretta.

“God has given the gift of life and it is our responsibility as Knights to give back,” Zaki said.

It all began one cold morning in December 2015 when, on the way to work in Los Angeles, Zaki encountered a homeless woman who had no jacket. Moved by her plight, Zaki gave up his own jacket.

But he was inspired to do more. At his wife’s urging, he set up a Facebook page that raised more than $3,000 in just a week. Together, the couple founded Transforming a Life as a nonprofit 501(c)(3) charitable organization.

For them, it’s all about what they can give to others.

“The only thing that one can take with us is the love and smile that we see when we give to our brothers and sisters in need,” Zaki said.

Soon after establishing the organization, Zaki began seeking jacket donations. He visited a shop in Los Angeles and explained the mission of his organization to the shop owner. As she heard Zaki’s pitch, she cried. She saw this as a providential opportunity since she had just heard the bishop’s message for the Year of Mercy. She donated nearly 200 jackets.

Knights began assisting with distributions not only across California but also in other states including Florida, New Jersey and New York. Last year, Knights distributed more than 8,500 jackets at Catholic churches, Jewish temples and homeless shelters.

With so many distributions over the years, shipping costs quickly added up. That is, until last November.

That month, wildfires in Paradise, Calif., left many people homeless and lacking basic necessities. True to his mission, Zaki collected jackets for the victims and brought them to a shipping site. He explained to the shipping workers the history of his organization and that the jackets were being sent to aid wildfire victims.

Happy to help, the manager waived all shipping costs.

“He goes, ‘Well, from now on I’ll ship everything for you for free.’ So we shipped that day 350 jackets to Paradise,” Zaki said.

But there was another problem ⁠— he was running out of space to store all the jackets.

Zaki and Loretta Mustafa with some of the jackets

Zaki and Loretta Mustafa with some of the jackets for their ministry (Photo courtesy of Zaki Mustafa)

“Last year my two bedrooms were full of jackets, my three-car garage was full of jackets,” Zaki said.

This year, Zaki’s brother Knight David Ramirez and his daughter, Alia, built him a storage shed for the jackets.

Providing jackets to the homeless is a natural supplement to the Knights’ Coats for Kids program, through which Knights around the world have provided hundreds of thousands of winter coats for children in need since 2009.

Jason Porrello, program director for community initiatives at the Knights of Columbus Headquarters, sees Transforming a Life as a way to expand on the mission of the founder of the K of C.

“Father Michael McGivney didn’t have much, but when people in need knocked on his door, he gave whatever he could,” Porrello said. “By providing jackets for the homeless, we are carrying on the mission of our venerable founder.”

Here are some of the highlights of the Knights’ work with Transforming a Life from just this past year:

  • Overall, more than 8,650 jackets were distributed in total during the 2018-2019 fraternal year. Distribution sites included approximately 30 different Catholic churches, 10 houses of worship for various religions and denominations, and 35 homeless shelters.
  • The Del Rosa Council provided jackets to 13 Catholic Churches in the San Bernardino area, along with Mary’s Mercy Center.
  • K of C California State officers gave more than 225 jackets to the Salvation Army.
  • Around 350 jackets were distributed following the devastating wildfires in Paradise, Calif.
  • 250 jackets were distributed with help from the American Red Cross to homeless veterans in Orange County, Calif.
  • More than 400 jackets were distributed to underprivileged children with help from Caterina’s Club, a non-profit organization in Anaheim, Calif.
  • Seminarians from St. Junipero Serra House in Grand Terrace, Calif., distributed more than 250 jackets to the homeless in the Riverside/San Bernardino area.

Learn more about Transforming a Life here.

Ready to put your faith into action in your community? Click here to join the Knights today.

Send your Knights of Columbus story to andrew.butler@kofc.org.