Knights of Columbus councils across the world began their annual Coats for Kids initiative this week, purchasing and distributing hundreds of thousands of coats.
Knights of Columbus Council #12572 — based in Scranton, Pennsylvania — met at St. Francis of Assisi Kitchen on Friday to begin their local drive. The group was led by KOC State Deputy Michael Kish and Brian Hallock, Master for 4th Degree Knights of the Central District.
"You could go anywhere in the state and find a council doing stuff like this," Kish said of the coat drive.
The coats were purchased with the help of the Knights of Columbus Supreme Council, which matches local councils' purchases of coats.
"The goal of the Coats for Kids program is to ensure that no child in North America goes without a coat during the winter season," the Knights of Columbus say of the initiative on their website. "Through the dedication of councils across the United States and Canada, hundreds of thousands of new winter coats have been distributed to children since program inception."
After the soup kitchen, the knights made their way along the public Lackawanna River Trail, where homeless encampments have become increasingly common. The group of twelve or so volunteers marched down jogging paths and under city bridges to hand out the winter clothing.
"They call this area ‘tent city,’" Hallock remarked. "Sometimes you get kids coming into the gas station, and you ask them where they live and they say ‘under the bridge.’ It's sad."
Hallock has been with the KOC for over 12 years. His father, William Hallock, is the grand knight of the council.
The Knights of Columbus were founded in 1882 by Fr. iichael J. McGivney as a missionary group of charity. Pope John Paul II called the group "the strong right arm" of the Catholic Church for their direct action in missionary and charity work.
The group rose to national prominence at the turn of the century with the motto "Everybody Welcome, Everything Free" to reflect their focus on works of mercy.
The Knights of Columbus are experiencing a healthy rise in membership after the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered churches and halted council meetings, Kish says.
Kish is assisted by his wife Colleen Kish, who runs a program called ASAP — Aid and Support After Pregnancy. The group provides material and personal support to struggling mothers during and after birth.
"In January, we have a first birthday," Colleen Kish told Fox News Digital. "We can't stop helping after they're born."
The youngest of the group on Friday was Arthur "Primo" Bobbouine, 15. He has been serving alongside the Knights of Columbus since he was a child.
"You have to be 18 to join, so I just hang around and help out," he told Fox News Digital, brandishing a KOC logo on his hat. Arthur Bobbouine became involved with the group following his father, community director Art Bobbouine.
"I was probably 4 or 5," Bobbouine said of his start with the group. "I've always helped out at the dinners."
Kish says its fathers' examples that get children involved in the Knights of Columbus and charity work in general.
"They see their fathers doing this work — the man is the spiritual head of the family," Kish said. "Being a leader isn't just telling people what to do. Part of it is bringing them into service to help others. Young men need examples."
The Knights of Columbus claim 1.7 million members in approximately 14,000 councils around the world. Councils exist in Canada, Poland, Japan, and more.