Vol. 4, 2016-2017
Gene Kranz (center), a retired fighter pilot and NASA flight director whose home was severely damaged by Hurricane Harvey, walks with (from left) Supreme Treasurer Ron Schwarz, Supreme Master Dennis Stoddard, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson and Texas State Deputy Douglas Oldmixon through the streets of Dickinson, Texas, Sept. 24. Kranz, a Fourth Degree Knight, was portrayed by the actor Ed Harris in the film Apollo 13. Photo by Rocky Kneten
To provide relief to those affected by catastrophic natural disasters that struck the southern United States, Mexico and the Caribbean beginning in late August, the Knights of Columbus launched a nationwide appeal for donations and mobilized at the local, state and national levels to deliver food, water and other necessities to those in need.
The K of C appeal began after Hurricane Harvey made landfall Aug. 25, inundating a wide swath of the Texas Gulf Coast with record-breaking flooding. It continued through Hurricane Irma’s torrential onslaught of Florida Sept. 10, Hurricane Maria’s pounding of Puerto Rico Sept. 20 and the 7.1 magnitude earthquake that rocked central Mexico Sept. 19.
In the weeks that followed, more than $2.8 million was collected via Knights of Columbus Charities, with 100 percent of donations going directly to relief efforts. Meanwhile, Knights on the ground also distributed more than $720,000 in food, water and other critical supplies.
“Charity has always been the defining characteristic of the Knights of Columbus, and people — both those in distress and those who want to help — have placed a great deal of trust in us,” said Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson, who visited the devastated Galveston-Houston area with other K of C leaders Sept. 23-24. “The outpouring of generosity to our appeal by our members and others has been greatly appreciated. Many of these volunteer Knights own homes and property that have been destroyed and yet are putting the needs of others in front of their own.”
During the two-day visit, Anderson was joined by Supreme Treasurer Ronald Schwarz, Supreme Master Dennis Stoddard and Texas State Deputy Douglas Oldmixon. They met with local K of C leaders and volunteers, archdiocesan officials and individual Knights and families affected by Harvey.
THE STORMS CLEAR
The areas hit hardest by Harvey were Houston and Beaumont, where 64 inches of rainfall in nearby towns shattered the U.S. storm record. The hurricane forced some 35,000 people to evacuate their homes, damaged or destroyed 135,000 houses and left 82 people dead.
As part of the immediate response, the Texas State Council identified families and communities most in need and mobilized its Disaster Response Program.
“It starts with preparation,” explained Bob Sumicek, the program’s regional coordinator for southeast Texas. “I’m always gratified to know we’ve been able to help so many.”
Scores of K of C councils across the affected region opened their facilities to serve as shelters, distribution centers and meal sites. Members of Ingleside Council 11570, for example, opened their hall to emergency personnel who used the location as a staging area, and also fed some 1,000 people.
In Dickinson, where the Shrine of the True Cross was badly damaged by floodwaters, members of Father Roach Council 3217 used boats to evacuate a priest from the shrine and local residents from their homes. The council then turned its hall into a makeshift church.
General Agent Joseph Hernandez of the Knights of Columbus South Texas Agency helped organize an immense number of local K of C relief and recovery efforts across more than a dozen dioceses, including 50 percent of the councils in the Corpus Christi Diocese. As a result, some 8,000 affected people were fed while Knights provided over 5,000 hours in relief work.
“When Knights are united for a common cause, what obstacle can we not overcome?” Hernandez said. “Many of us joined the Order to give back in a unique way and to be part of something bigger than ourselves. This was a perfect example of what it means to be a Knight.”
Deliveries of much-needed supplies and donations also arrived from Knights in Louisiana, Indiana, Washington, Michigan and Florida, among other jurisdictions.
In early September, Hurricane Irma churned a destructive course across the Caribbean, prompting the largest evacuation in Florida’s history. Making landfall in the Florida Keys Sept. 10, Irma inflicted widespread destruction, including at least 80 deaths throughout the state.
As with Harvey, K of C councils acted quickly to assist those in need.
“As soon as the storm cleared, the Knights of Columbus were underway trying to find ways to help people who were suffering,” said Father Robert Kantor, pastor of St. Agnes Church in Naples and chaplain of St. Agnes Council 14202.
Because his parish survived with all buildings structurally sound and power restored after three days, “we were able to turn the parish center into a disaster response location for the Knights of Columbus,” Father Kantor said. “At a time like this, the council showed us what they are made of in terms of faith and service.”
Jose Padilla, grand knight of San Carlos Council 2596 in downtown Fort Myers, led a Knights cookout and distribution at Jesus the Worker Church Sept. 16.
“Folks from the neighborhood came in under the tent and we provided them with food and water,” Padilla said.
Father Patrick O’Connor, OFSF, pastor of Jesus the Worker Parish and chaplain of Jesus Obrero Council 10886, said, “We were really kind of a ground zero for the hurricane and were hit pretty hard. It is very beautiful that many English- and Spanish-speaking Knights are helping immigrants who are going through a tough time.”
‘A GREAT FORCE FOR GOOD’
Knights also put their faith in action after back-to-back earthquakes battered Mexico Sept. 8 and 19, with a death toll of more than 300, and Hurricane Maria made a decimating direct hit on Puerto Rico Sept. 20, cutting off power on the entire island and leaving scores of people dead or unaccounted for.
The Supreme Council sent a donation of $100,000 to the Archdiocese of San Juan Sept. 22 to assist with immediate relief efforts. A second donation of $100,000 was distributed among the dioceses of Mexico City, Puebla and Cuernavaca to assist earthquake victims.
A number of councils in Mexico South and Mexico Central set up centers to collect food, water, medicine, clothing and other supplies.
In collaboration with Caritas and Bishop Faustino Armendáriz of Querétaro, the state chaplain, Knights in Mexico Central delivered a trailer of the collected supplies to the Diocese of Cuernavaca, one of the most damaged areas.
“It gives us great satisfaction being able to bring help directly to the affected communities and assist those who are most in need,” said Francisco Sáenz Muñoz, state deputy of Mexico Central. “Together, we are a great force for good.”
Earlier in the month, members of Eugenio Balmori Martínez Council 13199 in Coatzacoalcos, Mexico South, drove supplies to the town of Unión Hidalgo in Oaxaca, which was affected by the first earthquake.
In Puerto Rico, 90 percent of the population still had no power three weeks after Hurricane Maria devastated the island.
“The electrical grid and communication system was wiped out, with roads washed away and many towns inaccessible even to military vehicles,” explained Armando Vivoni, grand knight of Mons. José Torres Diaz Council 3836 in Río Piedras, near San Juan. “In the metropolitan San Juan area, only two councils survived without significant damage.”
Still, Knights have been aiding their communities and parishes as much as possible, added Vivoni, who assisted with a mid-October distribution of supplies from the Supreme Council. The shipment included 800 cases of food and water, as well hundreds of flashlights and battery backs.
General Agent José Lebron—Sanabria, a member of San Francisco de Asis Council 15849 in Las Piedras, coordinated a convoy of 10 pickup trucks to carry the supplies to the center of the island. In the days after Maria made landfall, Lebron- Sanabria and his family also made deliveries of clean water to those in need, including retired priests.
The Supreme Council assisted other affected areas as well. For example, the Order worked with Archbishop Patrick Pinder of Nassau to provide portable stoves and fuel for storm victims in the Bahamas, where Irma and Maria caused serious damage.
Contributions can be made online at kofc.org/disaster. Donations by check or money order can be sent to: Knights of Columbus Charities, P.O. Box 1966, New Haven, CT 06509-1966 with “United Disaster Relief ” in the memo portion of the check.
James Ramos, a staff writer for the Texas Catholic Herald, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, and Tom Tracy, a photojournalist from West Palm Beach, Fla., contributed to this story.
This article appeared in the November 1, 2017 online issue of Columbia magazine and is reprinted with permission of the Knights of Columbus, New Haven, Conn.
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