Text Size:
  • A
  • A
  • A

Knights of Charity: Then and Now


Columbia Staff

During World War II, parts of St. Peter’s Oratory, one of the Knights of Columbus playgrounds in Rome, served as the headquarters for the Vatican’s food distribution program and served up to 400,000 people daily. (UN Archives)

FOR THE PAST 128 YEARS, the Knights of Columbus has exemplified, as its first and founding principle, the virtue of charity. In this time, Knights have discovered innumerable ways to show love and support to their neighbors in need.

The Knights’ annual Survey of Fraternal Activity for the year ending Dec. 31, 2009, indicated that total charitable contributions surpassed $151 million, and the number of volunteer service hours to charitable causes by Knights grew to more than 69 million.

But the numbers tell only part of the story. They simply represent the tangible support that Knights give to families and children, people with intellectual or physical disabilities, military personnel and veterans, and many others in need — just as they did in past generations. What follows are just a few images and examples of the ways that Knights continue this tradition of service.

Soldiers gather at the Knights of Columbus Club in Adernach, Germany, c. 1918.

1st Lt. Gary Velasquez of St. Andrew’s Council 11874 in Rock Falls, Ill., distributes toys and school supplies to Afghan children in 2008.

THE ORDER'S SUPPORT of men and women in the armed forces is legendary — from the Army Hut programs during World War I and World War II to the countless K of C units today that send care packages to soldiers stationed around the world.

The Knights of Columbus helps to meet the spiritual needs of military personnel as well. There are currently more than 60 active military councils on bases worldwide. Copies of the Knights’ military prayer book, titled Armed with the Faith, have surpassed 500,000 in print. And since 2009, the Order has provided a bilingual Catholic handbook for Canadian military personnel as well.

Knights have also tackled the needs of veterans on several fronts, beginning with the “Serving Those Who Served” program. In cooperation with the U.S. Government’s Veterans Affairs Voluntary Service (VAVS) program, the Order has representatives at VA medical centers and many clinics throughout the United States. Knights regularly visit veterans at their homes and at medical care facilities, work to ensure that veterans are able to visit national memorial sites and help veterans with disabilities to obtain wheelchairs.

IN 1938, AFTER CONDUCTING successful blood drives on the local level for almost a decade, the Knights of Columbus established what many regard as the first blood donor program sponsored by a national organization. Hundreds of councils began blood donor groups, and the program soon became international in scope.

Today, 80 percent of Red Cross blood drives occur in partnership with high schools, businesses, places of worship and community organizations like the Knights of Columbus. This year alone, Knights-organized blood drives obtained nearly 414,000 donations.

In support of the victims of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the Order collected more than $100,000.

An injured Haitian woman thanks Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson after receiving a new wheelchair.

AS AN INTERNATIONAL charitable organization, the Knights of Columbus is often quick to respond to natural disasters and other scenes of human tragedy. Over the past century, Knights have promptly responded to dozens of calamities and have remained a strong force for charity worldwide.

There are numerous examples of K of C support over the past decade alone, from providing aid to flood victims in Mexico and the Philippines to the establishment of a $1 million Heroes Fund for the families of law enforcement, firefighters and emergency medical personnel who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001.

In the months following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Order’s Gulf States Disaster Relief Fund reached more than $10 million and Knights donated more than 100,000 hours of volunteer work to rebuild homes.

Following the devastating Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the Supreme Council sent $50,000 within days to Catholic Relief Services in order to aid the Haitian people. By April, Knights of Columbus gave $576,000 to recovery efforts for Haiti, and later that month distributed 1,000 wheelchairs at the University of Miami/Medishare Hospital in Port-au-Prince.

Since opening the Father McGivney Food Bank in March 2010, Robert Valera and fellow Knights from Our Lady of Guadalupe Council 14101 in Queen Creek, Ariz., have served more than 2,500 local residents.

THROUGH COUNTLESS INITIATIVES and charitable activities, the Knights of Columbus has from its beginning come to the aid of children and families.

Last winter, with the number at risk of hunger far higher than usual and the number of those planning to give to charity lower than usual, the Order committed $1 million and legions of active volunteers to its “Food for Families” program to collect food and financially support food banks in the United States and Canada. Food for Families is one of the many projects in the Knights of Columbus “Neighbors Helping Neighbors” initiative, which began at a summit on volunteerism that the Knights organized in New York City in February 2009.

Meanwhile, various programs make up the Order’s “Help a Child in Need” campaign, which began in 2006 with a nationwide television appeal for donations to charities that support the needs of children. Last winter, through the K of C Coats for Kids program, approximately 10,000 winter coats were distributed in 20 cold-weather cities throughout North America.

A Knight visits with a Special Olympics athlete June 25, 2010, during the Ohio Summer Games.

Young athletes race in a track event during the first Special Olympics games, hosted in Chicago in 1968.

OVER THE PAST FOUR decades, the Knights of Columbus has raised and donated more than $382 million and tens of thousands of volunteer hours to programs for people with intellectual and physical disabilities. In 2005, the Knights began a four-year partnership that committed $250,000 annually to grow Special Olympics in North America and other parts of the world, while pledging even more volunteers for state and local games. In 2009, the K of C Board of Directors voted to renew the Order’s partnership for another four years.

In 2003, the Order also began participating in the Global Wheelchair Mission, which provides durable, low-cost wheelchairs to those in need. Knights in the United States and Canada have sponsored the distribution of some 20,000 wheelchairs in nearly 20 countries.

LAST YEAR, KNIGHTS volunteered 227,900 hours with Habitat for Humanity, assisting with everything from pouring foundations and framing walls to painting and landscaping. Councils frequently undertake other construction projects as well, such as refurbishing church property and building wheelchair ramps for people with limited mobility.

Meanwhile, the Order’s tireless dedication to building a culture of life is seen, in part, in its support of pregnancy resource centers. Popular programs like Knights of Columbus Pro-Life Baby Showers and baby bottle drives help to provide women and children with the resources they need. And since it launched in 2009, the Order’s Ultrasound Initiative has obtained nearly 50 ultrasound machines for medically certified pro-life centers throughout North America.

Of course, the Knights’ service to others is not limited to these examples. Throughout the Order’s history, Knights have responded to neighbors in need. As these needs change and new partnerships emerge, one thing will remain the same: Knights will practice charity above all.

View this photo essay in its entirety as it was published in Columbia.