Knights boost donations to help intellectually disabled across state

MR Foundation supports agencies in Tennessee through fundraising efforts like Tootsie Roll drives

By Andy Telli

Efforts to revitalize fundraising for the Tennessee Knights of Columbus’ MR Foundation, which supports agencies across the state that serve people with intellectual disabilities, are starting to pay off.

“It has taken awhile to turn the ship but it’s started to turn,” said John King, president of the board for the MR Foundation and a member of Tim Coyle Council 9317 at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Cordova.

“It’s headed in the right direction. I’m very excited about the future.”

In the past, Knights of Columbus councils across Tennessee would hold annual Tootsie Roll drives, often soliciting donations for the MR Foundation outside large retail and grocery stores.

“The problem we have is most of your big box stores don’t allow us to collect on the Thanksgiving Day weekend,” the largest shopping weekend of the year and a popular time for councils to have their Tootsie Roll drives, King said.

So the MR Foundation asked councils to consider holding other types of events to raise money. The foundation’s officers also asked all the councils to hold at least one event on the same weekend, with the hope that all the activity would raise awareness among Catholics and the general population about the Knights’ efforts to support people with intellectual disabilities, King said.

“Last year’s program was successful,” King said. “Total collections are up over last year. I’d like to think we’ve turned the corner.”

Last year, councils collected $168,900 for the MR Foundation and increased that total this year to $190,000, King said.

Councils implemented several new fundraising events. One of the most successful was Council 9282 at St. Stephen Church in Hermitage, which received an award during the state convention last spring for the best new idea.

Last August, the Knights held a free cookout for St. Stephen parishioners after the Saturday evening Mass and invited players and officials from the Challenger League, a program of the Mount Juliet Little League that gives children and adults with intellectual disabilities the chance to play baseball. The next morning, the Knights offered parishioners free sausage biscuits and another opportunity to meet the Challenger League players and officials.

“We wanted to let parishioners know this is where your money goes,” said Bill Walsh, the deputy grand knight of Council 9282.

The event also helped to put a human face on the effort, said Grand Knight Bob Young, whose daughter is a former player in the Challenger League. The goal was to let St. Stephen parishioners know “these are some real life people, come out to meet them,” he said.

The event raised about $1,200 in donations for the MR Foundation.

The council followed that with a poker tournament for parishioners, which raised about $3,600, Young said. The final event of the year was the annual Tootsie Roll drive with council members collecting donations and handing out Tootsie Rolls after the weekend Masses. The drive raised another $1,200, which pushed the council’s total to $6,000 for the year, an increase over the $5,400 raised the year before, Young said.

“The parish responded very well,” Walsh said. Council 9282 plans to hold the same three events in the coming year as well.

The MR Foundation is asking all councils to do at least one event on or near the feast day of St. Christina, the patron saint of those with intellectual disabilities, which is on July 24, King said, “so the state is unified in doing something together for the MR Foundation.”

The foundation also is suggesting councils conduct their Tootsie Roll drives the first weekend in August, which is a tax-free weekend for families buying supplies and items for the new school year.

“Tax-free weekend is a great weekend,” King said. “It’s one of the busiest days of the year for retailers.”

After councils turn in their donations to the MR Foundation, they can designate one or more agencies that serve people with intellectual disabilities to receive half of the money donated. The other half is distributed by the MR Foundation in the form of grants, which often are used to help support the various homes for the intellectually disabled that are sponsored by the Knights across the state.

Grants also have been used to help pay for vehicles that agencies use to transport their clients between their homes and their jobs or appointments.

“We want people to be aware of the Knights of Columbus’ efforts and to contribute,” King said.

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