NEW HAVEN – "Everywhere you turn, the devastation is so extensive," said Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson, head of the Knights of Columbus, recounting his three-day tour of the Gulf Coast states ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.
"Our members didn’t wait for a call to help," he said at a press conference Sept. 14, noting the quick response taken by local members of the Knights of Columbus. "That’s the spirit of the American character."
During a meeting at the White House the previous week, President George W. Bush personally thanked Mr. Anderson for the ongoing charitable works of the Knights of Columbus.
"You see the physical devastation," Mr. Anderson said, commenting on fishing vessels that had been tossed, and people sleeping in cars because their homes were gone. One victim’s mention of losing all family photos made the "emotional effects" real as well, he said.
"Nothing I saw on television prepared me for what I saw in the last two days," said Mr. Anderson. "It’s going to be months and months – years – for this recovery."
The head of the 1.7-million- member fraternal organization traveled first to Houston where he joined Knight-volunteers at the Astrodome. He also met with local and state leaders at Houston Council 803.
In Baton Rouge, La., he met with New Orleans Archbishop Alfred Hughes, who is leading recovery efforts for his Archdiocese from temporary quarters provided by Baton Rouge Bishop Robert Muench.
He also met with Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, and Pope Benedict XVI’s personal representative, Archbishop Paul Cordes.
During the visit, Mr. Anderson toured several hard-hit communities, including Slidell, La.; Biloxi, Miss.; and Mobile, Ala.
The international organization has pledged $2.5 million to the relief effort – the largest disaster donation in its history.
Of the total, $250,000 will go to Catholic Charities in affected areas, and $1.25 million will assist those displaced by the storm.
An additional $1 million will go to help rebuild some of the estimated 130 Catholic schools in the area that were damaged or destroyed by the storm that displaced thousands of pupils, he said.
The Supreme Council also pledged to match any contributions from Knights councils and assemblies, as well as by the general public, that are made by early November.
Donors may make checks payable to Knights of Columbus Charities USA Inc. The organization is asking donors to mark both the check and envelope with the message: Attention: Hurricane Katrina Relief. Information is available at www.kofc.org.
"We are asking all of our councils and assemblies in the U.S. and Canada to become active in this relief effort within 60 days either through cash donations or volunteer efforts," he said.
Mr. Anderson said that it will take "an army of volunteers" to rebuild the schools. "We have 13,000 councils nationwide, and we’ve asked them all to take responsibility" for the relief and rebuilding effort, he added.
Many Knights in local councils near the affected areas volunteered their homes, council halls, and personal time and supplies to those affected.
The Knights of Columbus, which is the world’s largest Catholic lay organization, has nearly 50,000 members who are located in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
Over the past decade, the organization donated $1.174 billion to charity, and provided in excess of 560 million hours of volunteer effort in support of charitable causes.
It also provided significant relief for other recent disasters, providing more than $500,000 to victims of the Asian tsunami and $1 million for families of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.