Patrick Lubrano, a Knight from Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Council 3268 in Denver, Colorado, had just gotten off a highway exit last October when he noticed a homeless man sitting by the side of the road, shaking in the cold, winter weather. He pulled over and asked the man if he wanted a throw blanket — one he had just bought for his kids — that he had in the back of his car. When the homeless man said yes, the two struck up a conversation.
“Who are you, and what’s that on your jacket?” the homeless man asked.
“That’s the Knights of Columbus,” Lubrano replied.
“Oh my God, I was a Catholic priest,” the homeless man responded.
Lubrano couldn’t believe it, his eyes filling up with tears. He tried to get the former priest to a shelter, but the man wouldn’t go, saying he had “lost his way.” Lubrano gave him the blanket and all the money in his wallet and drove away, but that moment felt like he was “leaving one of my own on the side of the road.”
He later returned to the area with more food and clothing, but the former priest was no longer there.
It was this interaction that inspired Lubrano to help others in similar situations; only now it’s on a larger scale. Since Nov. 1, 2020, Lubrano has handed out more than 450 blankets to the homeless in the Denver metro area. Initially his efforts began with distributing meals to those in need, but he switched to giving out blankets when the winter weather settled in.
“I could see them shivering in the doorways, and that made me go out and buy blankets,” he said. “They’re living on the sidewalks in Denver, in little tents or no tents, lining up as far as the eye can see in some places.”
There were more than 31,000 people in the Denver metro area who needed homelessness services between 2019 and 2020. And more than 6,000 people needed services within a single night, according to the Colorado State Homelessness 2020 report. While that seems like an overwhelming statistic, Lubrano has taken it one step at a time.
“I’m a Catholic boy from Brooklyn and I’m a Knight of Columbus. This is my calling is to help and see the need,” he said. “It’s taking action, it’s doing something about it, even if it’s just one person, one time.”
On a typical night, Lubrano drives through Denver neighborhoods to the tent communities, some of which spread across an entire block. Sometimes Lubrano will cover those sheltering under bus stop benches with blankets. The conditions are dirty and bare-bones, and the areas are afflicted with violence. In a few instances, Lubrano has talked with those who couldn’t sleep out of fear of getting mugged sometime during the night.
As a former Brooklyn kid who grew up in a “hard place,” Lubrano is familiar with rough streets. Even then, he couldn’t bear to see someone who was hurting. It’s what led him to join the Knights of Columbus nearly 30 years ago.
Most nights, he’ll have at least 30 blankets on hand, introduce himself as a member of the K of C, and distribute the blankets from at least six feet away so as to adhere to social distancing protocol. On several occasions, Lubrano has seen the mortuary remove bodies that have frozen to death during the night. This has impacted him deeply, and has given him a simple, but crucial, mission.
“The goal is to bring them some warmth so they don’t freeze to death so that, the next morning, they can get up and get a meal somehow,” Lubrano said.
Lubrano has mostly gone into these neighborhoods alone, but his council, family and friends have provided financial support through a GoFundMe page. On one occasion, his two children — both 6 years old — asked to donate one blanket each to other children.
“I started crying,” Lubrano said. “Those two blankets went to two children I saw waiting outside the Denver Rescue Mission for a meal.”
Lubrano believes his work goes “hand-in-hand” with the Knights of Columbus’ Leave No Neighbor Behind initiative that began in response to the pandemic. The initiative inspires Knights to serve their communities, especially through helping food banks, blood centers and other essential services that have been depleted of their vital supplies. They are also called to lead their communities spiritually through novenas and other prayer resources.
“You can’t pick and choose who you’re going to help,” Lubrano said. “Love thy neighbor goes everywhere. We all should be doing it.”
To learn more about the Leave No Neighbor Behind initiative, click here.
Originally published in a weekly edition of Knightline, a resource for K of C leaders and members. To access Knightline’s archives, click here. Or, share your story by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.