NEW HAVEN—After being out of work for a prolonged period due to an illness, Montreal Beckford has slowly been lifting herself back up with the helping hand of what she said is “God’s grace.”
During that time, it was a challenge to purchase coats for her three children and a nephew she has guardianship over. “I couldn’t get anything,” Beckford said.
But on Friday, she got another helping hand in the form of the Knights of Columbus’ K of C Coats for Kids giveaway at St. John the Baptist Church on Dixwell Avenue. The organization holds the events across the country and Canada for children in need.
“I think this is awesome,” Beckford said. “There are so many kids… in Greater New Haven that I’ve helped, with coat drives get coats, and I knew nothing about this. If I would’ve known earlier, I could have really spread the word for people (to) come out.”
Beckford volunteers at her children’s school, Brennan Rogers in New Haven, where she learned about the event. She stopped by Friday with her three children and a nephew. She said there are children at Brennan who could use similar help.
“Every day I see quite a few with no coats…it’s sad,” Beckford said. “I pray some of them (are) here.”
Paul Healey, statewide Knights of Columbus Family Activities director, manages the coat events in Connecticut. In addition to the New Haven site, there were similar coat giveaways in Bridgeport, Stamford, and New London, as well as three other towns. It’s the sixth year of the drive and the fifth year in New Haven.
Coats were available for toddlers through teenagers, Healey said. Twenty-five volunteers from New Haven, Hamden, Wallingford, North Haven and East Haven helped Friday to outfit children, help parents out at the event and even translate for Spanish-speaking parents.
“Every year, we distribute 3,000 coats throughout Connecticut,” Healey said. “There are people that are deeply in need of simple warmth with the winter time coming on us.”
The event purposefully takes place on Black Friday, the massive pre-holidays shopping bonanza day. Healy said their event brings awareness to people who may not have the opportunity to purchase new merchandise.
“There’s nothing wrong with it, but people here in this country celebrate their abundance and at the same time, there are people who don’t even have, children who don’t even have the means to keep themselves warm in the winter time,” Healey said. “It’s a time for us to give back.”
Knights of Columbus Supreme Treasurer Ron Schwarz said the event is representative of the Knights’ values. The organization is the world’s largest Catholic fraternal order and is headquartered in New Haven.
Last year’s coat event saw more than 80,000 coats distributed across the country and Canada. That figure has already been exceeded this year, Schwarz said. The coats are purchased through local council fundraisers and with contributions from the Supreme Council in New Haven.
“Charity is one of the main principles of our order,” Schwarz said. “This is something that we can do to help families in need who can’t afford coats for their own kids, struggling. It means that we’re providing something back for those in the communities that our order, our councils are involved in across the U.S. and Canada.”
Tiffany Flowers, of New Haven, said she learned about the event through a family member who works at the Knights of Columbus. She’s gone to the giveaway for the past three years.
“It’s helpful for the community because kids grow every year,” Flowers said. “A lot of families can’t afford to buy coats.”
Flowers earlier Friday had visited to get a coat for her son, Thomas, before returning with her two young nieces. So did her son like his brand-new gear?
“Yes, he did,” Flowers said enthusiastically. “He said it was nice and warm!”
Reach Esteban L. Hernandez at 203-680-9901 or firstname.lastname@example.org