On a rainy and foggy Saturday in November, members of Knights of Columbus Council 869 in Harrisburg found themselves among the homeless who live beneath the city’s Mulberry Street Bridge and in the abandoned industrial buildings nearby.
Here, on this soaking and dismal day, just a week before Thanksgiving, the Knights came with boxes of some of the holiday’s traditional fare: mashed potatoes, vegetables, bread and pie, and fully cooked rotisserie chickens in place of frozen turkeys.
The effort was part of the council’s participation in Food for Families, a program established at the national level to help end hunger in local communities.
Council 869 – based on Peach Street in Harrisburg – annually takes part in the program. Council members connect with area ministries that provide Thanksgiving meals to people in need, and help supply those efforts, which include the Silence of Mary Home and the Nativity School in Harrisburg.
The Knights also inquired with area residents in the immediate vicinity of their Peach Street location, and also made deliveries to the homeless in the area of the Mulberry Street Bridge.
To secure the meals, the council works with Giant Food Stores, which supplies the food. The Knights pick up the food from Giant, bring it back to their meeting place to assemble meal boxes, and then distribute them.
Frozen turkeys are the main staple, however rotisserie chickens are provided to people who don’t have an oven.
This year, Council 869 distributed 85 boxes. With each box containing enough food for four people, they ultimately served 340 meals.
Approaching the area of Harrisburg where the homeless seek shelter, Deputy Grand Knight Joe Bosche said he and two fellow Knights didn’t know what to expect as they arrived.
“The homeless live in old, industrial, concrete block buildings, and you’re carrying boxes of food and shouting out that you have food, hoping that somebody responds to you,” Mr. Bosche relayed. “A gentleman poked his head out the glass front of a building, and opened the door for us. Inside, there was no electricity, no light, no heat. Just a couple of mattresses.”
In another building, the Knights found men huddled around a bucket, trying to build a fire, and six people living in tents.
“To think about what they go through at Christmas or Thanksgiving, do they even have Christmas? Will they have food? Do they have anybody who can help them?” Mr. Bosche pondered. He said that these questions have led Council 869 to consider additional outreach efforts in January and February.
“When you’re somebody, like me, who lives in a suburban community and you go into an area that could be dangerous, it’s definitely sobering. But when you start interacting with the people, you see the humanity, the need, and their extreme gratefulness,” Mr. Bosche said.
The Food for Families effort fits perfectly into the mission of the Knights of Columbus. The fraternal organization has four degrees: charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism.
“Charity is the first cornerstone that every Catholic man is exposed to when joining the Knights of Columbus,” Mr. Bosche said. “Therefore, it is paramount that the Knights are present in their community to provide charitable works.”
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness