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It’s More than a Tootsie Roll


By Andrew Fowler

When you see Knights in yellow vests that read “Helping People with Intellectual Disabilities,” you should smile. When these Knights are holding their bright cans and collecting donations around town, they are helping to recognize the dignity of every person.

For every donation, each donor is offered a piece of candy by the Knight present, most commonly a Tootsie Roll. Because of these little gifts of appreciation, the “Campaign for People with Intellectual Disabilities” has frequently referred to as the “Tootsie Roll Drive.” It is a popular and successful fundraisers conducted by Knights of Columbus councils.

Supreme Council’s headquarters in New Haven, Conn. is often referred to as the “Tootsie Roll building” by locals because of its round columns and brown color, but the Knights actually have no official ties to Tootsie Roll Industries. And of course, the campaign, which stretches back decades, is about more than just candy — it is about serving those with intellectual and physical disabilities.

Councils’ participation in this campaign as well as many other fund-raising endeavors last year contributed to the $185 million and volunteered over 75 million hours last year helping various causes.

Through their “Campaign for People with Intellectual Disabilities” drives, Knights from Maine raised over $95,000, Fr. Maurice R. Daly Council 6076 from Spartanburg, S.C. donated $12,000 raised and Wally Kullman Council 14479 from Conifer, Colo. brought $10,000. These are just a few of the many councils that hold drives.

The Knights of Columbus not only conducts the “Tootsie Roll Drives” in their efforts to help people with intellectual and physical disabilities, but has also partnered with the Special Olympics since its founding along with other programs.

This month, Mary Help of Christians Council 11804 donated over $5,000 to the Hope Services Day Programs in Watsonville, Ca., completing a six-week effort at five local churches. Hope Services’ manager, Mauna Loa Morris, said the funds the Knights provided “means that we can do more activities in the community,” in an article published by the Register Pajaronian.

Earlier this year, Knights from St. George Council 3934 raised more than $6,000 for the Fulton County Rehabilitation Center in Canton, IL. Meanwhile, Fr. Harold M. Wren Council 3963 from Billerica, Mass. presented a $17,000 check to the Massachusetts Knights of Columbus Tootsie Roll Charities Fund, becoming the top fundraiser in the state for the ninth consecutive year.

St. Frances Cabrini Council 9679 helped the Yupcaipa-Calimesa Joint Unified School District, raising $3,200 for children with special needs. As one school teacher told the News Mirror, “This will help them learn those skills to help them become independent at one point.”

After receiving a donation from Holyoke Council 3519, directors at the Dragon’s Wagon Preschool in Holyoke, Colo. told the Holyoke Enterprise, “The Knights of Columbus are so generous every year…This donation will benefit all of the preschool, including special needs students.”

Some councils conduct the drives annually, including Annunciata Council 8759 from Devil Hills, N.C. On Jan. 21, the Knights distributed checks worth $24,100 in total to special education teachers in the area and the Special Olympics to be used for classrooms and events, respectively. In the past 30 years, the council has raised over $400,000 through their “Tootsie Roll Drives.”

“We are answering needs for those who are often treated harshly by society and often ignored or worse,” said Dennis Zegan, grand knight of Council 8759. “In many schools, Special Needs Programs are often low on school districts' budgets and local Special Olympics are always looking for funds to meet the financial needs to participate in their many programs.”

So the next time you see a Knight in a yellow vest asking for donations outside a grocery store, and you receive a Tootsie Roll, remember it’s more than a “Tootsie Roll Drive.” It’s a chance to provide people with intellectual and physical disabilities more resources to live a happy life.

To learn more about the Knights, click here.

Share your story with andrew.fowler@kofc.org