Volunteers are pictured outside the Needham Knights of Columbus Hall in June with pallets of food to be prepared for shipment to Haiti. Courtesy photo
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In June, St. Joseph Parish and the Needham Knights of Columbus collaborated to raise the necessary money and then coordinate an effort to send over 95,000 meals to Haiti. A humanitarian effort of this scale is unprecedented in Needham.
The need for this help grew out of the crushing lack of food in Haiti due to COVID-19. The pandemic caused the Dominican Republic, which supplies 80 percent of the food to Haiti, to close its borders with them, effectively cutting off their food supply. For many years, St. Joseph Parish has raised money to be used by CRUDEM, now called Haiti Health Promise of Holy Name (a nonprofit committed to providing health services to the people of Milot, Haiti) to build and staff medical facilities, build houses, and provide humanitarian relief after the devastating earthquake in 2010. This year, the need was for food, and St. Joseph Parish responded.
Working jointly with the Needham Knights of Columbus, money was raised to buy the food and supplies for up to 100,000 meals, consisting of rice, beans, freeze-dried vegetables and protein powder. On June 11, a tractor-trailer truck filled with supplies was unloaded by volunteers into the Knights of Columbus hall. Then, working with an organization called Feed the Hunger, the hall on Highland Ave. was transformed into several efficient production lines, staffed by over 250 local volunteers who, over the next two days, assembled, packaged, and shipped over 95,000 meals to the good people of Haiti.
"This was an amazing example of the people of our community coming together to help people in dire need," said Michael Gillis, the coordinator of the event.
According to Gillis, "This effort will absolutely save lives and serves as a wonderful example of what's possible when we all work together."
A broad array of volunteers showed up to ensure a successful outcome for this undertaking, including parishioners of both St. Joseph and St. Bartholomew's Parish, local seminarians and priests, members of a local order of sisters, laypeople of every faith, students, elderly residents of North Hill and other local facilities, and many others.
"This was a real community project," said Bob Timmerman, the Grand Knight of the Needham Knights of Columbus. "It never fails. Every time we reach out to the people of Needham to support a worthy cause, people come running from everywhere. St. Joseph Parish's dedication to the people in Haiti is so inspiring, and the impact they have had is unbelievable. This is a remarkable community, capable of doing enormous good, and they do it every time there is a need. We're lucky to live here and be a part of it."
The meals will be delivered to the Milot region of Haiti this month through Feed the Hunger, which can ensure safe delivery to those most in need.
Some have suggested making this an annual event, and while this is being considered, the needs of Haiti change based on circumstance and a wide array of factors.
"Next year, circumstances may cry out for another kind of assistance," said Gillis, "and if that's the case, we'll do the best we can to respond to that as well."
Combined with several other recent similar events in Massachusetts, over 200,000 meals have been shipped to Haiti in recent months. St. Joseph Parish and the Needham Knights of Columbus expressed their thanks to the entire Needham community for their help and support of the project. More information on their efforts can be found at www.needhamkofc.org.