A Charity that Evangelizes
If it’s true that actions speak louder than words, then the Knights of Columbus let out a giant shout this past winter with a number of charitable initiatives that fulfill Jesus’ command to feed the hungry and clothe the naked (cf. Mt 25:35-36).
Especially in this Year of Faith, acts of charity inspired by faith are essential to the new evangelization. Where words end, actions undertaken in a spirit of charity, unity and fraternity convey what it means to be a follower of Christ.
The Knights of Columbus has not let this opportunity go to waste. Throughout all the jurisdictions where the Order is present, Knights took up the task of helping the most vulnerable during cold-weather months through the Knights of Columbus Coats for Kids and Food for Families initiatives. Whether distributing new winter coats in Utah or feeding a community on Thanksgiving in Massachusetts, Knights demonstrated what Blessed John Paul II called “a charity that evangelizes.”
With only a few days advance notice, Connecticut State Warden William T. McGovern and area district deputies organized a Coats for Kids distribution at Blessed Sacrament Church in Bridgeport, handing out approximately 300 coats to needy families. The turnout wasn’t quite as large as expected which turned out to be a hidden blessing. Following the devastating school shooting in Newtown, many children were forced to leave their jackets at Sandy Hook Elementary School after evacuating the facility. Coats left from the distribution in Bridgeport were later transported to Newtown and donated to children who lost their coats amid of the shooting.
“We are there to do what is needed for the community and to support the community — Catholic or non-Catholic.” – Connecticut State Warden William T. McGovern
The holiday season can be a wonderful time for families to share food and company. But it can also be a lonely time for many. Thanks to Fairview Council 4044 in Chicopee, Mass., no one in Western Massachusetts needed to spend Thanksgiving alone. For the 22nd year, the council hosted its annual Thanksgiving dinner, serving more than 3,800 meals throughout the week. Beginning on the Monday before Thanksgiving, Knights delivered 2,000 meals to the homebound and cooked for about 400 people at the Chicopee Boys and Girls Club. The council also delivered food to military personnel at Westover Air Reserve Base and served food at a local soup kitchen before joining 200 volunteers at the council’s social hall to wait on approximately 1,000 diners there. In total, the staff prepared 4,200 pounds of turkey, 1,000 pounds of potatoes, 1,200 pounds of squash and 1,000 gallons of gravy, among other sides.
“Every year the numbers go up. I hope for the day that the economy is better and people are doing better and the numbers go the other way and drop. But until that day, the council plans on being there to help those in need.” – Ronald Belair, dinner organizer
For Msgr. John A. Cass Council 2626 in Long Beach, N.Y., the autumn of 2012 brought one tragedy after another. In October, Hurricane Sandy smashed multiple communities along the southern coast of Long Island. Despite running on generators, the council’s social hall served for five weeks as a distribution center for food, shelter, clothing and cleaning supplies. But in a second tragic turn, the council hall caught fire Dec. 10, 2012, just as council members were about to turn their attention to repairing the storm-ravaged building.
With several important events pending at the social hall, Father Joseph O’Connell Council 3481 in nearby Oceanside stepped in to help. Primarily, Knights took the reins on a Christmas party that was supposed to be held for child victims of Hurricane Sandy on Dec. 22, 2012. Council 3481 relocated the event to its hall and arranged with the Florida State Council to have coats donated to every child in attendance. The Oceanside council also donated food for the event, which included music, entertainment and a visit from Santa Claus with an abundance of toys.
“When you see the stress of people losing the contents of their homes … people don’t know how to deal with this. And what our faith teaches us is to help and care for these people, and help them try to get through these difficult times.” – Grand Knight Timothy Pendleton of Father Joseph O’Connell Council 3481, Oceanside, N.Y.
SALT LAKE CITY
In winter, the average low temperature in Salt Lake City typically hovers around 20 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s chilly for most adults, let alone children who don’t have access to adequate cold-weather clothing. The Utah State Council set out to correct this deficiency at the end of 2012, purchasing 25 cases of coats through the Knights of Columbus Coats for Kids program to donate to needy families. By working with the Diocese of Salt Lake City’s Catholic Community Services, Knights were able to effectively target families who needed the most assistance. In addition to working with CCS, Knights also distributed coats at several parishes, one of which also had hats and gloves available for recipients.
“Some of the parents, too, you can see the gratitude in their faces. They thank you. And some of them start crying a little bit because now they know that their child is going to be warm. … They don’t have to focus now on, ‘What am I going to do today if it gets cold?’” – Utah State Secretary Jerald P. Hanten
Sometimes even the U.S. Marine Corps needs a little bit of help this time from the Knights of Columbus. In Kaufman County, Texas, Father W.P. Pechal Council 11721 assisted with the Marines’ Toys for Tots program to make Christmas merry for 85 local families.
For the past 13 years, Knights have collected the names of needy families, vetted them through the Salvation Army, and worked with the VFW and other community groups to organize the distribution of toys and food items. When all the goods were collected, volunteers gathered at St. Anne Church to divide the materials equally for each family into boxes containing two toys for each child, a turkey, dinner rolls, vegetables, potatoes, apples and pie filling. No children were present at the pick up, so the toys and food could be a surprise on Christmas. Suddenly, families who were looking forward to baked beans and hot dogs for Christmas dinner had a bit more holiday cheer.
“This is family. This is what we were brought about by Father McGivney to do. This is keeping families together.” – District Deputy Bernard J. Grant Jr. of Texas District #84
PATRICK SCALISI is associate editor of Columbia.