Knights aid parishes in providing meals, delivering food for needy amid pandemic

By Dan Russo Witness Editor DUBUQUE —The coronavirus pandemic has shut down many services and events, but one Catholic parish in Dubuque has continued to provide free weekly meals to the needy, making modifications to prevent spread of the illness. Knights of Columbus have stepped up to aid in this effort. St. Patrick Parish in Dubuque has had a weekly community meal for over three decades. On Wednesday evenings, various volunteers from across the city join forces with a core team to prepare and serve hot and cold foods in the parish hall. Since the coronavirus became a threat to public health, organizers have shut the hall, but are giving out food in to go boxes on the sidewalk outside, while maintaining the recommended social distance and taking other precautions. “A lot of our people walk to our site,” said Dave Becker, a St. Patrick parishioner, who is part of the core team that manages the meal. Over the course of about 90 minutes April 1, volunteers gave out bags with platters containing pasta, pulled pork, fruit and other items to a steady stream of people. In all, Becker estimated that they served about 125-140 that day, including deliveries to nearby shelters for the homeless. The core volunteers received help with the distribution from St. Columkille Parish's Knights of Columbus Council 15813 that day. Council members came back to help again April 8 and have delivered more food packages since then on a regular basis. “One of the great statements I have heard and go by is, ‘It takes a village to raise a child’,” said Mark Hoeger, Deputy Grand Knight for St. Columbkille’s Council. “It also takes a village to feed the hungry. There are so many great people in the city of Dubuque that are always willing to step up and help out in any way they can. Whether it's a financial gift, a store donation, helping cook meals or delivering the meals, I have never found it hard to find help when I ask for it. And to many people that know me, I'm not bashful about asking. That's what keeps us going at the St. Columbkille Knights of Columbus Council.” The meal program organizers at St. Patrick Parish routinely accept assistance from groups of visiting volunteers and rely on donations from Hyvee Food Stores and St. Stephen’s Food Bank, among other supporters. “A lot of the people are food insecure,” explained Sandy Shaffer, another regular volunteer. Both Shaffer and Becker expressed concern that the economic consequences of shutdowns due to the pandemic might cause a big financial hit to some of the people who come to St. Patrick’s meal. But the value of the meal is not just nutritional. “They come down to socialize,” said Becker. “A lot of people are lonely and now (because of the pandemic) it’s worse yet.” Hoeger and his fellow Knights plan to continue support meal distributions and delivering food packages to those in need as millions of people begin to feel the economic effects of the crisis. “We always have something in the works, and by being smart with our purchases, we make every dollar go a very long way,” he said. “We will continue to make meals and put food baskets together for as many people as possible until this pandemic ends. May God Bless us all.”

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