When COVID-19 lockdowns began last spring, life became all the more challenging for a husband and wife in Ashland, Mass., who are both completely blind. The difficulty of completing tasks around the house without assistance was worsened by the fact that the husband was recovering from the amputation of his leg.
The couple was referred to their local Knights of Columbus, who helped them complete what might seem like a simple task — sorting laundry, and helping distinguish which articles of clothing belonged to the husband, and which belonged to the wife.
Since the pandemic hit, Knights from Bishop Rice Council 4822 have served their neighbors in need in Ashland and Hopkinton through their COVID-19 Helping Hands program. To efficiently assist those whose external lifelines were cut off, the group established hotlines and email addresses so those in need could request help from the Knights.
“We wanted to be very clear of what the program was and what the program wasn’t,” said Chris Alicandro, the council’s grand knight. “We're not 911 and we didn't want to give false expectations that we were an emergency, but we did want to find out how to help people along the way.”
When the program was officially established on March 18, 2020, the Knights weren’t sure what to expect.
“We had no idea whether we were going to get one call a week or 100 calls,” said Jim Villani, one of the program’s founders. “We just basically closed our eyes and put it in God’s hands and said, ‘We’re going to do what we can do.’”
Initially, requests included helping the elderly and vulnerable with grocery shopping, prescription pick-ups, and drives to doctors’ appointments. While completing these tasks, the Knights made sure to adhere to proper health and safety guidelines.
As word spread about the Helping Hands programs, the number of calls increased, and so did the variety of requests. The Knights mowed lawns, shoveled driveways, delivered furniture, updated someone’s iPhone settings, and delivered a birthday cake to a child with special needs. On Memorial Day, they drove a widow to visit her husband’s grave. In total, the Knights answered more than 200 calls since the pandemic began.
According to Villani, serving neighbors is simply what Knights do.
“This is what we're called to do,” Villani said. “This is why the Knights were essentially started — to help their neighbors in times of need and help those who are stranded and left in need.”
The most significant impact of the Council 4822’s work is simply their company with those who are isolated, according to the program’s dispatcher, Stephen Campbell.
“Sometimes, when somebody calls and they got a need, they just want to talk, so I let them talk,” Campbell said. “It’s that human contact that’s been missing and people have been starving for that during the pandemic.”
Alicandro has noticed this same impact of the Knights’ work as being a “true companion” to those whom they are helping.
“Part of it is the 10 minutes, delivery of the groceries or medication or whatever it might be,” he said. “And then the rest of it is the other 45 minutes to two hours of sitting down talking to these people and understanding how they're doing, how they're feeling, many times talking about God and their faith.”
Last March, the Knights of Columbus established the Leave No Neighbor Behind initiative, calling on all members to serve those in need in their communities while adhering to social distance guidelines during the pandemic. Bishop Rice Council 4822 answered that call through their Helping Hands program, and also by sponsoring blood drives and volunteering for local food banks. The council is currently conducting its own Lenten food drive as well.
As COVID-19 restrictions begin to loosen across the United States, the Knights plan to continue their Helping Hands program to continue to help people with disabilities, the elderly and all who are isolated.
“It’s not just about helping people, but it’s about making the Knights visible for what we should be doing, which is portraying Christian, Catholic men in a strong, supportive, helpful way,” Villani said. “It’s what the Knights are about — helping the people next door, helping the people closest to you. If every community has a Knights of Columbus council in it that just helped the people in that community, the world would be a better place.”
To learn more about the Order’s Leave No Neighbor Behind initiative, click here.
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