Rarely has a mission statement been so succinct and yet so far reaching: “There are school kids in Ontario who simply do not have a winter coat. We aim to fix this problem.”
That’s the concern and goal of Ontario Coats for Kids, a collaborative initiative involving Knights of Columbus councils, the State Council, general insurance agents and field agents throughout the Canadian province.
Coats for Kids has been a major initiative of the Knights of Columbus throughout North America since the program launched in 2009. In Ontario, the program was operating for several years, sponsored independently by individual councils serving their local communities, but then General Agent Neil Bouvier of Hamilton thought there might be a better way. He wondered if an agency could collaborate with councils to work toward a common cause.
So in 2015, with some help from Past State Deputy Nat Gallo, the Bouvier Agency partnered with two local Hamilton councils in an inaugural Hamilton Coats for Kids program. Together they donated 84 coats to four Catholic schools and to the diocesan Office for Refugees, but that wasn’t enough to meet the need. So in 2016, they expanded to 19 councils in the region and created a website that provided more information on the initiative.
“We also reached out to the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board,” Bouvier said. “We explained to them what we were doing and asked if they were able to provide us with actual numbers of coats needed. They did, and were we ever surprised.”
The following year, Hamilton Coats for Kids partnered with the Ontario State Council and four other K of C insurance agencies. Soon they were supplying coats to the neighboring Niagara Catholic District Schools as well.
The agents and members of local councils work together to purchase the coats and establish a delivery network through the agents, councils and districts. School staffers then make sure that the students with greatest need receive a coat.
Catholic school officials are acutely aware of the benefit Coats for Kids provides to students in need.
P.J. Daly, the chairperson of the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board, wrote in a letter to Bouvier last December, “The distribution of coats to young people and numerous other initiatives facilitated through the Knights of Columbus makes a significant difference in the lives of countless individuals in our community.”
He also noted the crucial role that Bouvier plays in the distribution.
“In a special way, I would like to express our appreciation to you for your leadership and many hours of work co-ordinating this very important act of Christian service. Your commitment to the program has been instrumental in its success.”
This year, the Ontario Knights have collected more than 7,000 coats for distribution.
Every K of C field agent is himself a member of the Knights and is committed to serving his brother Knights and those in need in his community. To learn more about what it means to be a field agent, click here.
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