Despite pandemic, Mechanicsville Knights feed hungry

John Pohida, left, a member of Church of the Redeemer’s Knights of Columbus Council 11042, and Mike McCurry, Deputy Grand Knight of the council, unpack groceries at Friends Church in Mechanicsville for the Food Bank on Tuesday, Sept. 8. The council, in partnership with Friends Church, provides food for 60-70 families weekly in Hanover County. (Photo/Jacob Rozsahegyi)

Partnership with Friends Church serves 60-70 families weekly

 

Feeding the hungry has become exceedingly important over the past several months as COVID-19 has brought struggle and uncertainty to people across the country and in the Diocese of Richmond.

For nearly two decades, members of Church of the Redeemer’s Knights of Columbus Council 11042 in Mechanicsville have dedicated their Tuesdays to fulfilling that mission.

Every Tuesday morning, donations are collected from local grocery stores. The stores donate their unsold chicken, pork and ground beef, as well as bakery items, produce and other foods.

Every Tuesday night, the Knights and Friends Church give the food to 60-70 families in need. Since the beginning of COVID-19, more than 9,000 pounds of food and 700 hours of volunteer work have been donated to the community.

Retired law enforcement officer Jeffrey Uerz has served as a Knight for 21 years and is the Immediate Past Grand Knight of that council. He has participated in the food program for the past eight years and sees the Knights as a way for him to continue to serve his community.

“From the beginning of this program, our Knights of Columbus council’s focus has been to ensure that as few as possible go to bed hungry each night,” said Uerz. “Additionally, we hoped to inspire others to put their faith in action in some way, to ensure they were looking out for our neighbors.”

The Knights’ partnership with Hanover Evangelical Friends Church Food Bank is a result of shared Christian values.

“Friends Church is a group of Christians from a variety of backgrounds growing together in Christ,” explained Uerz. “They come to church to worship, study God’s word, bear one another’s burdens and enjoy our church family. They want to share the love of Christ with our community and with the world.”

As with many aspects of life during a pandemic, the Knights encountered several challenges in their effort to keep providing food for the hungry.

China, the first epicenter of COVID-19, is also the United States’ biggest supplier of pork products, according to Uerz. Since there was less product coming into the U.S. from China, there was less product for stores to sell. Food on the store shelves was quickly sold as people rushed to fill their refrigerators in the immediate panic-shopping that resulted from coronavirus fears. During the first few months of the pandemic, donations to the food program decreased dramatically.

“As a result of these shortages, one week we were only able to give each family one pound of protein for the week” Uerz recalled. “That particular night, I went home with a heavy heart and prayed all week for donations to increase in the coming weeks.”

Another challenge was manpower. Many of the Knights were vulnerable to COVID-19 due to age or medical conditions. Uerz sent those who were high-risk home and appealed to the Church of the Redeemer for support. He received an overwhelmingly positive response. Several “Friends of the Knights” — people who aren’t Knights but whose family members or friends are — volunteered their time at a critical moment. Thanks to them, the program was able to continue and didn’t shut down during the pandemic.

In addition to obtaining food and having the ability to physically run the Food Bank, the volunteers also had to adjust their operations to accommodate safety precautions, including social distancing and wearing the necessary personal protection equipment.

“Instead of the recipients coming into the facility and picking up the food, it had to be bagged, placed in crates, and hand-delivered to the recipients’ vehicles,” said Daniel Corso, a fellow Knight and editor of the council’s newsletter. All volunteers wore facemasks and gloves, and the Knights also provided PPE to members of Friends Church.

Uerz said that all of those measures doubled the work for volunteers, but it was necessary in order to keep everyone as safe as possible.

Many of the Knights have since returned to the Food Bank, and some of the new volunteers have continued. Donations have increased again, though not to the same level as they were before the pandemic. Yet, no family that came to the Food Bank went home empty-handed.

“My lifelong role was to make this world a better place by and with the grace of God,” Uerz stated. “Each day as the sun rises, I pray my work will make a difference in just one person’s life. Each day I strive to do my best in the service of my God, Church, pastor, fellow Knights and community. This program is a means of making a small difference in the lives of others.”

Corso added, “At the end of every Mass, the congregation is reminded to go forward glorifying God through words and deeds, which incorporates promoting the values of Jesus Christ, giving others a Christian behavioral guide. In this regard, this ministry that feeds people in need is as good as it gets at living one’s faith.”

Editor’s note: To donate time or money, contact Jeffrey Uerz at jaumd@comcast.net.

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