The Knights of Columbus B.C. and Yukon Council delivered 1,000 coats to Holy Eucharist Cathedral in New Westminster. B.C., just a few of the 1,000,000 coats donated by the Knights across North America since 2009. B.C. and Yukon Council State Deputy Herb Yang said the program keeps growing from year to year. Photo courtesy Knights of Columbus B.C. and Yukon Council

1,000,000 coats and counting

  • November 26, 2023

Jason Nelligan will never forget how one little girl reacted when she received a warm winter coat from the Knights of Columbus Ontario State Council a few years ago.

“We gave her a coat, and she said, ‘Now I will be able to go to school,’ ” reminisced Nelligan, the chairman of Ontario’s Coats for Kids program. “This was incredible. We thought, ‘Wow.’ This gift, this simple gift of a coat to this child, allows her — she was too cold to go to school, so she stayed home — to go to school. It brings tears. It’s very emotional.”

The Knights of Columbus Coats for Kids program has enkindled heartwarming moments for numerous children across Canada and the United States since its inception in 2009.

On Nov. 6, Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly commemorated the initiative attaining the one-million milestone with a delivery of 1,000 new coats to disadvantaged children attending five Catholic schools in Denver. The fraternal organization marked this landmark occasion by also donating $10,000 to each of the five academies.

“The Coats for Kids program has become synonymous with the Knights of Columbus mission of charity, as first established by our founder, Blessed Michael McGivney, more than 140 years ago,” said Kelly. “The generosity of our donors and the work of our local councils to distribute one million coats to some great kids in need is proof that where there’s a need, there’s a Knight.”

Over the years, jackets have been distributed in all 10 Canadian provinces and in 49 American states. This annual charitable mission’s Canadian presence, which started to gain momentum nationwide in the mid-2010s, still appears to be in ascent. The Catholic Register spoke to Knights of Columbus reps from B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario and all four gentlemen stated their province’s respective 2023 efforts are on track to match or outpace the number of coats delivered in 2022.

Herb Yang, the state deputy of the B.C. and Yukon State Council, provided exact figures. Last year, councils across the region gave out 143 boxes totaling 1,716 coats. The Knights increased the delivery output by 48 per cent this year by distributing 212 boxes filled with a total of 2,544 coats.

“We have participation all around British Columbia,” said Yang. “Up north in Prince George, Vanderhoof, in the Kootenays… it is not limited to a single area, which is great to see. Every year the program grows, and we expect that to happen again next year. The needs are very diverse depending on the location.”

Notably, more than 1,000 coats were supplied to Ukrainian immigrants attending the Holy Eucharist Cathedral in New Westminster.

Zooming out the landscape to include the United States, an average of more than 100,000 coats have been issued to children in need each year since 2017. In 2023, it’s expected the 200,000 threshold will be eclipsed.

These lofty totals are made possible because Knights of Columbus councils across North America are proactive at forging partnerships with public and Catholic schools in their communities. The Knights also team up with non-profit organizations and parishes supporting immigrants and refugees and pay visits to U.S. military bases, Native American and First Nations reserves.

Shawn Scherr, the chairperson of the Saskatchewan Knights of Columbus’ Coats for Kids program, said his province’s enterprise has grown in part because it “teamed up with the (Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations) and five tribal councils.” The Knights have struck an agreement that sees these FSINs, and councils, pay half the costs, which is a mutually beneficial arrangement as it enables more coats to be delivered. A tribal council recently ordered 60 cases of coats from Scherr’s team.

Another factor fueling the sky-high demand for coats in 2023 is the affordability crisis straining the wallets of the average Canadian and American family.

“(It is) 100 per cent (a reason),” said Ron Schuster, the Alberta and Northwest Territories Coats for Kids program director. “Cost of living is extremely high as you are well aware. Groceries are through the roof and utilities are through the roof. Any way we can help a family with children keep warm during the winter months, we’re there for them.”

Nelligan, Scherr, Schuster and Yang used to be on-site for the deliveries more often, but the increased time commitment required to process an ever-growing list of orders has limited those opportunities.

For the Ontario council’s part, Nelligan said it has shifted away from predominantly in-person visits after finding that shifting to an “on the Q.T. delivery method helps keep the anonymity” of the kids receiving coats.

“We deliver the coats to the trustees who then pass it along to the principal. They know exactly what kid is in need. They give it to them in an aside instead of us getting involved.” 

The memories of those past occasions when a child dons a new coat do not go away.

“Especially when you are a child, when you get something new there is a glow in your face,” said Yang. “That is what I saw when I put the coats on the kids. Seeing them with a smile on their face is a wonderful feeling. It makes you feel good too because you are making a difference.”

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.