As food insecurity grips millions, the Order ramps up its assistance to food banks across the U.S. and Canada
“Catholic Charities is in immediate need of manpower.” No sooner had these words gone out on social media than Knights across Brooklyn and Queens, N.Y., were ready to help.
The local Catholic Charities, which had received a $50,000 donation from the Supreme Council, was setting up an emergency food pantry at St. Michael’s Church in Brooklyn on April 24. Volunteers were urgently needed to lift boxes, sort groceries and manage hundreds of people lined up for food.
Father Michael Gelfant, associate chaplain of the New York State Council, posted the appeal on Facebook and included a stirring reminder: “This is why we were founded, this is what we do. This is what it means to be a Knight of Columbus!”
Knights answered the call for this and numerous similar events throughout the spring. With demand skyrocketing amid the COVID-19 pandemic, food banks around the United States and Canada have witnessed firsthand “what it means to be a Knight of Columbus.” The Order has stepped up — at multiple levels and in many ways — to feed the hungry as part of its Leave No Neighbor Behind initiative. The Supreme Council kicked off the effort by distributing $1.25 million to hunger relief organizations in 16 U.S. states and four Canadian provinces. At the same time, thousands of local councils mobilized, donating funds, collecting cans, buying grocery gift cards, volunteering time and much more.
“At the start of Holy Week, we announced a multimilliondollar campaign to support food banks in the United States and Canada,” said Supreme Knight Carl Anderson. “Many councils and individual Knights have joined the effort to provide urgent support to the neediest among us. I have said before that where there’s a need, there’s a Knight. This is a time of great need. And once again, we must stand together to meet it.”
In Baltimore, Supreme Chaplain Archbishop William Lori presented a $50,000 check from the Supreme Council to Our Daily Bread, a Catholic Charities meal program that was serving about 1,000 bagged lunches a day during the pandemic, up from about 750.
“Many people who had at least minimal employment are the first ones to lose their jobs,” noted Archbishop Lori. “And as a result of the pandemic, the food sources for Our Daily Bread have been interrupted.”
The Order’s donation helped the program continue its streak of more than 14,000 straight days — 39 years — feeding the city’s poor and homeless.
“The Knights of Columbus is always a beautiful organization, but its beauty is really shining forth in this time of crisis,” the supreme chaplain said.
Across the country, Catholic Charities of Denver received a donation as well. Some of the funds went to the Little Flower Assistance Center in Aurora, which has been supported for many years by local Knights, including Bishop Evans Council 10122, St. Michael the Archangel Council 11732 and Our Lady of Loreto Council 12336.
Colorado State Deputy Chris Foley joined a group of Knights at the center May 6, unloading several truckloads of food and moving into place a large refrigeration unit. Purchased with the K of C donation, it doubled the food pantry’s capacity to store fresh produce, meat and dairy.
“There’s a huge amount of need out there, and there’s a huge amount of charity flowing out of councils across the state,” Foley said. “Ordinary people are providing extraordinary service through Leave No Neighbor Behind.”
Another organization benefitting from both Supreme Council and local council support is Knights Table, which has been serving free meals in Brampton, Ontario, for 30 years.
“Knights Table was formed after my father, Cecil, took my sister for a summer ice cream treat,” Supreme Director Arthur Peters explained. “While there, he saw somebody rummaging through the garbage looking for food — and he felt that that shouldn’t be happening here in our city.”
As grand knight of Father Clair Tipping Council 9235 in Brampton, Cecil Peters launched the initiative with his council’s support. The organization has expanded and evolved over the years, and before the pandemic, it served about 250 meals a day; lately it has been distributing about twice that number.
“Our councils, our volunteers, are out there on the frontlines, helping to support organizations like Knight Table across Canada,” Supreme Director Peters said. “We’re calling on our brother Knights to check in on them and to help them wherever necessary.”
Back in hard-hit New York, State Deputy Walter Wych had nothing but praise for the Knights he leads. “Everyone is stepping up in his own way,” he said, but especially in New York City, where the impact of the virus has been dramatic.
Knights have been doing a lot of heavy lifting — literally — at Catholic Charities’ weekly food pantries, unloading trucks on Wednesday, sorting on Thursday and distributing on Friday. Some of them volunteer yet again on Saturday, when St. Finbar Council 15728 and Most Precious Blood Council 6134, both in Brooklyn, open up their own food pantry to assist scores of council members unable to work during the pandemic. With help from other councils in the district, their Leave No Neighbor Behind food pantry is feeding 60-80 K of C families a week.
“It is my belief that challenging times reveal the true character of an individual. The same can be said for an organization,” Wych said. “How we react to these times will be the legacy of the Knights of Columbus.”
CECILIA HADLEY is senior editor of Columbia.