Members of the Knights of Columbus were out in full force at the Interstate 86 rest stop in Campbell Aug. 16-17, getting ready for … the holidays.
They weren’t donning Santa suits or decorating trees. Rather, the Knights’ holiday preparation involved giving away coffee, other drinks and snacks to weekend motorists heading eastward who were welcome to make free-will offerings in return.
And offer money they did. According to John Cardona, grand knight of Precious Blood Council 5147, the K of C raised approximately $1,200 in the latter of their two annual summer fundraising weekends at the rest stop. Proceeds go toward the council-sponsored Care and Share program, which for more than 25 years has provided food baskets in central Steuben County during the holiday season.
Closely connected to the food-basket effort is a Christmas toy drive for families in need; Council 5147 coordinates the sign-up and distribution for both initiatives. Cardona noted that last year, 250 families and individuals received food baskets and 450 children were given toys.
These efforts typify the council’s support of community and parish goodwill since being formed more than 50 years ago in Bath. Council 5147 covers much of central Steuben County, serving St. John Vianney Parish (St. Mary Church in Bath and St. Gabriel in Hammondsport). In addition, Cardona noted that "I’m in the process with Father Pat to do a membership drive there," referring to Father Patrick Connor, pastor of neighboring Ss. Isidore and Maria Torribia Parish (St. Catherine of Siena, Addison; St. Stanislaus, Bradford; and St. Joseph, Campbell).
Cardona said he joined the Knights six years ago to deepen his volunteerism at St. Mary Church that had begun with the youth-ministry program.
"I wanted to make a change, to see what I can do to help people," he explained.
Speaking of youth, Council 5147 offers ample aid to that age group by offering a scholarship program for high-school graduates as well as assisting with the annual "Trash and Treasure Sale" that is a major fundraiser for St. John Vianney’s youth ministry. Among the Knights’ other good works are sponsorship of blood drives and parish coffee hours, and support of numerous civic organizations. Another key responsibility of all Knights is to defend Catholic teaching in the public arena.
Cardona said membership in Council 5147 is healthy, with nearly 120 Knights currently. They range in age from 18 (the minimum age) to over 90.
"Two 18-year-olds just became Knights, and two more are becoming Knights," Cardona said. "We’re very much on an upswing (in membership)."
Meetings are held on the first and third Thursday of each month beginning at 7:30 p.m. at the council facility, located at 7161 County Route 54 in Bath. Council 5147 has two chaplains: Father Jim Jaeger, sacramental minister at St. John Vianney; and Father Peter Anglaaere, pastor of Our Lady of the Valley Parish in Hornell and Rexville.
Those who become fourth-degree Knights — the highest of four ranks — earn membership into Father Guilfoil Assembly 732. That K of C group meets once per month at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Painted Post.
Cardona emphasized that the Knights of Columbus is more than just a men’s organization. He lauded the efforts of his council’s Ladies’ Auxiliary, which assists by baking cookies for the rest-stop initiative, helping with blood drives and working on sign-up lists for the Christmas toy collection.
"They stand behind us 100 percent. At all of our functions, our women are there," Cardona said, adding that Council 5147 is increasing its emphasis on family events such as picnics and dinners so as to include women and children more regularly.
Cardona said he’s gratified by the local assistance the Knights receive in making their initiatives successful. For instance, he said several area businesses donate goods to be sold at the I-86 rest-stop sales. Businesses also step up when the holiday basket and toy initiatives draw near.
"It’s overwhelming, how this small community really supports us," Cardona remarked.
He said the Knights gain satisfaction from their efforts simply by seeing smiles when they deliver a Christmas toy to a child or a food basket to a senior citizen. In addition, he said affirmation occurs regularly during the rest-stop weekends. When travelers stop at their stand and learn about the causes that Council 5147 supports, he said that "people are very grateful" and happy to add to the collection container. At other times, he said, "We’ve had people drop in $5 and $10 saying, ‘My dad was a Knight.’"
Then there was the young mother with two small children who stopped for a couple of cookies and some drinks.
"She said, ‘I remember when the Knights helped us,’" Cardona recalled. "And she dropped $20 in the container."
EDITOR’S NOTE: Anybody interested in joining the Knights of Columbus should contact John Cardona at 607- 329-1186.