The Montana winters can be brutally cold, reaching around 20 degrees Fahrenheit or below on average. For nearly 1,400 homeless people — 200 of which are veterans — throughout the state, surviving in that brutal cold is a daily reality in the winter months.
The Knights of Columbus Our Lady of the Mountains Council 13093 in Stevenville wanted to change that reality, particularly for veterans, through its “Duffels for Veterans” program. The council fills duffel bags with winter gear including coats, pants, boots, gloves, hats, socks, blankets, tarps and more and then delivers them to the Poverello Center, a homeless shelter, in Missoula for distribution.
This winter, the Knights will hand out 30 duffel bags — 20 for men and 10 for women. For Grand Knight Todd Wohlman, the program is a chance to help veterans readjust to civilian life.
“It’s a tough to adjust from, when you see those awful things and are called upon to maybe do awful things or be present for them,” Wohlman said. “It’s tough to reacclimate to what society calls normal. Some of us veterans don’t cross back over very well”
Wohlman, a veteran, served in the U.S. Air Force. Before 2012, he was living in New Jersey, where he joined the Knights of Columbus. During that time, Wohlman became involved with Operation ChillOut — an outreach organization to homeless veterans. When his family moved to Montana in 2012, he wanted to bring that same outreach to veterans through the volunteer efforts of Our Lady of the Mountains Council 13093. The council agreed.
The program began in 2017 when the Knights gave out six duffel bags. Since then, it has grown every year to the point where they are now specifically designing bags for women to meet the mounting needs.
Each bag not only contains the basic necessities to keep warm, but also rosaries and prayers cards. Wohlman sees the duffel bags as way to help the “spirit and body” of homeless veterans.
“It seems more than appropriate,” Wohlman said. “Our Lady of the Mountains, she holds a special place to us. And having the rosary in there we feel that’s a connection to offer some hope, and maybe it will help them in a different way than clothing.”
For a council with more than 10 veterans, their program feels like a “natural extension” of the Order’s patriotic principle.
“Because we are a men’s organization and the military, by and large and for a long time has been predominantly men, the connection can be easily made,” Wohlman said. “Here’s a man, he’s had a rough life and he could be my brother, he could be someone my father knows, he could be a colleague of mine. It’s a natural extension of what we are called upon to do.”
The Knights of Columbus has helped veterans for more than a century, from establishing schools for veterans returning from combat during World War I to honoring them at funerals. The Knights of Columbus has also partnered with the Gary Sinise Foundation to build homes for disabled veterans, and they join the Archdiocese for the Military Services in sending thousands of military personnel to a Marian apparition site in France through the Warriors to Lourdes Pilgrimage. The Knights of Columbus’ service to veterans also includes volunteering at VA medical clinics around the U.S. and distributing wheelchairs to veterans through the Global Wheelchair Mission.
Share your story of how your council is helping strengthen people’s faith and offering support during this time. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published in a weekly edition of Knightline, a resource for K of C leaders and members. Access Knightline’s monthly archives.
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