Even in normal times, the Knights of Columbus St. Agnes Council No. 2548 strives to support the community through numerous programs and fundraisers to help contribute financially to local organizations like the Interfaith Nutrition Network (INN), youth basketball, St. Vincent DePaul’s, Camp Anchor, and many more. But these are not normal times. When members of the men’s Catholic fraternity saw long lines leading up to The Experience Vineyard Church on Merrick Road, they saw another challenge to take on: local families struggling to put food on the table.
The St. Agnes Knights of Columbus made their way to Costco early last Thursday morning to purchase goods for The Experience Vineyard Church. Grand Knight Phil Paoli and Deputy Grand Knight Joe Daleo said the goods, which consisted of varying cereals and canned foods, came straight out of their charity funds. The church’s outreach director, Julie Longwood, said the food pantry sees between 100 and 175 families line up each week to receive supplies such as cereal and produce that they otherwise struggle to afford.
“It’s been challenging, but it’s been really rewarding,” Longwood said, “because it’s been amazing to see the surrounding community really just jump in in a way we hadn’t expected.”
As described in a video from the St. Agnes chapter, the Knights of Columbus are a worldwide men’s Catholic fraternity organization whose primary purpose is charity. The organization has two million members around the world and donates approximately $185,000,000 each year to a wide variety of causes. Paoli’s St. Agnes Knights have donated in excess of $20,000 a year over the past few years. Even during the pandemic, the fraternity is finding ways to hold events to fund their charity work.
“The pandemic has curtailed our fundraising activities,” Paoli said, noting that the organization is continuing to find ways to adapt to the situation. “Recently, we had a virtual raffle in support of Mercy Medical Center’s neonatal intensive care unit.”
Longwood and her outreach team at the Experience Vineyard Church’s pantry spend Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays bringing all the donated items into the church’s basement where they can organize and bag the items to fit the needs of the families seeking help. Prior to the pandemic, the members of the outreach group could organize the pantry into a market style, but now the produce bags, dry goods, and non-perishables are handed out while families wait in line six feet apart.
Longwood strives to make the experience a welcoming one for those in need of the pantry’s services. Longwood said one of the goals, aside from the food, is that “when they come here for food, they experience respect and hope and dignity and love regardless of their situations, regardless of what they look like, and regardless of who they are.”
The community they serve has shown their appreciation for the church’s members by sending in cards and letters thanking them for their efforts, Longwood said.
The St. Agnes Knights of Columbus have found a new outreach organization that they can help with their charity. In times like these, there’s always work to be done for those in need. Paoli urges members of the community to reach out if they are interested in donating by calling him at 516-507-7793.