By Peter G. Sánchez
CAMDEN, N.J. (CNS) — Towing a trailer full of canned goods and fresh water behind his pickup truck, David Goeller pulled out of his driveway in Williamstown, New Jersey, one February evening facing 900 miles of open road.
Beside him sat Raymond Sands, and after an all-night drive, the two Knights of Columbus would witness firsthand the devastation caused by the December tornado system that swept through Mayfield, Kentucky.
“The town was gone,” Sands said, describing rubble, bulldozers and blocked roads.
Goeller recalled “trees snapped and splintered.”
Mayfield was among the towns hardest hit by multiple tornadoes late Dec. 10 into early Dec. 11, including one that was on the ground for more than 200 miles, leveling communities across numerous states and killing more than 75 people in Kentucky.
Sands, who is the Knights of Columbus’ state secretary for New Jersey, remembers learning of the storm’s wrath from his home in Ocean View, New Jersey, and quickly connecting with Knights from the Msgr. Russell Council No. 1418 from St. Jerome Catholic Church in Fancy Farm, Kentucky.
“They told me the town was wiped out and anything we could do would be much appreciated,” said Sands, a parishioner of St. Gianna Beretta Molla Parish in Northfield, New Jersey.
In response, Knights from the Camden Diocese collaborated with councils from the Diocese of Trenton, New Jersey, in a “Hope and Help Kentucky Aid” campaign.
The effort is “what the Knights of Columbus is all about — in service to one, in service to all,” said Goeller, the Knights’ district deputy of District 54 in the Diocese of Camden and a parishioner of Our Lady of the Lakes in Collings Lakes.
The immediate need was money, so the diocese’s Knights quickly sent $500 in Visa cards to the relief effort. Next, the Knights mobilized their area councils for a planned January drop-off in Kentucky. But those plans were delayed, which gave them more time to collaborate with Knights in the Trenton Diocese.
After a few hours on the road Feb. 8, Sands and Goeller rendezvoused at a rest stop in Hagerstown, Maryland, with two Knights from the Diocese of Trenton, and the four formed a transport headed to St. Joseph Catholic Church in Mayfield, the distribution center for the relief effort.
Combined, they carried the collections from Knights’ chapters, councils and assemblies, along with schools and small businesses from two dioceses: more than 10,000 pounds of canned goods, toiletries, baby items, water, pet food, winter coats and $9,020.
Arriving at St. Joseph Church, they were greeted by 20 brother Knights; Father Eric Riley, parish pastor; and Ursuline Sister Martha Keller, pastoral associate at St. Jerome Catholic Church in Fancy Farm, one of the lead organizers for the relief effort.
After the eight pallets of supplies were unloaded, the four Knights had just enough time to accept a lunch of fried chicken, butter beans and corn, a gesture, they said, that surprised and touched the visitors.
“We’ve just come to help them out, and here they are, feeding us,” Goeller said, his voice catching. “All they could say was thank you.”
All told, the four New Jersey Knights spent two hours in Kentucky before turning their trucks back east.
The connection between the New Jersey and Kentucky Knights councils will continue, Sands said, adding that it is hoped there will be a Zoom conference in March between the two parties, with more Knights and relief leaders able to take part.
“We need to reach out, introduce ourselves and see the faces of those we help,” he told the Catholic Star Herald, Camden’s diocesan newspaper.
“God is calling us to help; we have to give hope,” Sands said.
In addition to addressing the needs of their own parishes and communities, the Diocese of Camden’s Knights of Columbus continue to step up when help is called for around the state, country and world. Last year, they collected almost $8,000 for Texas residents left without power after ice storms.
The items and financial assistance collected by the Knights for the western Kentucky tornado victims “is a sign to all of us of God’s goodness that comes to us through other people,” Father Darrell Venters, St. Jerome’s pastor, wrote in a letter he recently sent to Sands.
“(It is) also proof for me there is a lot of good and faithful people in the world,” the priest said.
Sánchez is a staff writer at the Catholic Star Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Camden.