Thursday, May 22, 2008

When shopping or just driving or walking around town last month, you undoubtedly saw men shaking cans, asking for donations to help those in need.

Those men are among the 150 members of the Secaucus Council of the Knights of Columbus, and they're giving their time to help others. Last month's proceeds will help the mentally disabled, a cause the Knights have collected some $12,000 for over the last eight years.

It's just one cause among many for the group, which meets at Immaculate Conception Church.

"It's always a fulfilling thing when you see any group of people who have a bigger vision of pooling their talents and gifts to help others in need," the Rev. Joseph Pietropinto, chaplain of the council since he arrived at ICC five years ago, said. "The men really have their hearts in the right place."

Mary Immaculate Council 12769 of the K of C was formed in the summer of 2000 and draws members not only from ICC but also from St. Francis Church in Hoboken and other Roman Catholic parishes in the area.

Grand Knight Neal McGarrity, who holds a position similar to group president, says the national group's four principles of charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism explain it all.

"I joined because I wanted to make a little bit of a difference," McGarrity said.

Having been a member of the K of C chapter in his hometown of Sunset Park, Brooklyn, the health insurance underwriter readily joined the Secaucus chapter when he and his wife moved to town 10 years ago to raise a family.

Family, the 39-year-old McGarrity notes, is "a main concern of the Knights."

Every year, for example, the group hosts basketball free throw contests for children and family picnics. Members' children are also eligible for scholarships awarded by the Knights national, state and local councils. And they're looking to form a Squires Circle for boys 10 to 18.

An important benefit for Knights and their wives is participation in an insurance program.

"In case a member dies, the family is protected," McGarrity said.

But the majority of the group's work benefits those outside their organization.

Among the Secaucus council's most successful endeavors is their annual winter coat drive, run in conjunction with NJ Cares, a volunteer and charity organization based in Hillsdale. By putting boxes outside the doors of Immaculate Conception and St. Francis Church, the Knights collected 275 coats and 150 sweaters this year alone. The items were all distributed within an hour at the Franciscan Development Community Center in Fairview.

"Just to see them come in with nothing more than a sweater on and to see them take a coat - that makes a difference," McGarrity said.

Such experiences prove to McGarrity that it doesn't take a lot of effort to better the world.

"I tell anyone that joins, 'If you can give us five hours a year, you'll make a difference.'"

© 2008 Secaucus Journal. Used with permission.