LITTLETON, Colo. — When a teary-eyed mother said thank you, Ken Balcerzak suddenly realized the impact that his Knights of Columbus council’s Thanksgiving Basket program has on families.
“The feeling I experienced was so incredible and one that I will never forget,” he said.
Balcerzak, the deputy grand knight for Rev. Robert F. Houlihan S.J. Council 10937 in Littleton, Colo., shared how his council provided the woman and her four children with a turkey and the makings of a full holiday meal. Without the council, they’d have gone without anything.
The council started the Thanksgiving Basket program in 2004 after the Alternatives Pregnancy Center asked if the council could provide food for some of the families it served at Thanksgiving. That year, about 20 Knights put together food baskets for the families. Each basket contains a turkey or ham, potatoes, rolls, pie, stuffing, fruit gelatin, butter and vegetables to make a full thanksgiving dinner for 5-7 people.
The food basket program is just one way that Knights of Columbus worldwide help put food on the tables of families and people in need, typically through its Food for Families program. In 2018, Knights donated nearly 11 million pounds of food and more than $9.6 million to support soup kitchens, food pantries and similar work as part of Food for Families programs.
Rev. Robert F. Houlihan S.J. Council 10937’s basket program evolved when word spread to the community about the Knights’ work. The community began reaching out to the council for aid. The Knights turned to its parish, Pax Christi Catholic Church, for volunteers to help those in need. Together, Knights and parishioners began assembling and delivering the baskets.
“Over time, the giving pattern changed towards parishioners donating monetary funds and the council pooling the funds and acquiring the food items for the baskets in bulk,” Balcerzak said. “We now have a large assembly line of parishioners putting together over 450 baskets, with 60 baskets assembled and donated by parishioners on their own. The Holy Spirit has been guiding us through the whole process.”
The project itself gets the K of C families and the entire parish involved and is a great way of showing people what the Order is all about, said Grand Knight Mike Burkett. For each parishioner and Knight who volunteers, thousands are helped.
“There was over 10-12 outside community organizations we served. Then, in return, they would serve 2,000 to 3,000 people in the community,” Burkett said. “The way it starts from each Knight, and then to their families, then to the parish, and then to the entire community is awesome.”
The Knights and parish reach out to the partner organizations in August to determine their needs. Then, by mid-October, they begin fund raising, roughly five weeks before the baskets are distributed. Leading up to the distribution day, the Knights solicit donations for the program at Mass. They also engage parishioners to volunteer to prepare 60 baskets that are passed out to St Elizabeth Pantry recipients.
The council purchases all the food needed to build the baskets through a local grocery store. The Knights then gather on the Friday before Thanksgiving, transporting the food to the parish hall. On Saturday, more than 30 Knights and more than 150 parishioners gather at 8 a.m., form an assembly line and create nearly 500 food baskets from the approximately 15,600 lbs of food purchased with the donations that usually range from $15,000 to $17,000.
“All volunteers were with smiles and grateful to be gathered together knowing they were serving a greater purpose,” Burkett said. “To see the baskets be organized and stacked to make the trip to each charity was awe inspiring. We knew that God was granting a great gift.”
The boxes are taken outside and set up for either pick up by the partner organizations or delivery by Knights and the parishioners.
“They [the Knights and parishioners] are amazing,” said Samantha Stairs, of the Douglas County Sherriff’s Office, who is a liaison with the Knights and the Wounded Warrior and American Heroes in Action programs. “When you get there everything is outside, organized, labeled and ready for pickup. I can’t tell you how great they are, it almost makes me cry. They [the veterans] appreciate it so much. Just to have that help at the holidays. It’s heartwarming.”
Roger Giudici, faithful navigator of Pax Christi Assembly 3353 that works with the council on the program, spoke of the year he was at Catholic Charities in Denver handling out baskets.
“The look of thanks and relief on the faces of those receiving was more thanks than any words could ever be,” Giudici said.
“We saw people who had dreaded the holidays now realizing they too could celebrate with their families without worry.”
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