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Knights helps those who serve mentally impaired

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By John Hummer

Exponent staff writer

It was a beautiful weekend. People’s spirits seemed to be high from the combination of warm weather and sunshine. And the money was flowing out of people’s pockets and hands and into Tootsie Roll shaped collection containers being held by men wearing bright yellow vests.

Those men are Knights of Columbus. They could be found throughout the weekend around Brooklyn (as well as communities across the country) manning local “hotspots” such as McDonald’s, Big Boy, and Buddy’s gas station and convenience store collecting donations for the mentally impaired. One hundred percent of the money the group raises goes to help adults and children with cognitive impairments.

The Tootsie Roll Drive – or “MI Drive” as it is called by the Knights – is the organization’s single largest charity event. The drive is a national fundraiser typically held annually on Palm Sunday weekend in the spring and/or on the weekend of Columbus Day in the fall.

For their dollars and change, donors get a Tootsie Roll or two. Many turn down the Tootsie Roll offer and are just happy to donate.

Bob Sutch, a Knight with St. Rita of Clarklake Council 7945, was manning Buddy’s gas station and convenience store on Main Street in Brooklyn. Onsted’s Bob Mallow stopped to make a donation.

“We have a member of our family that suffers from bipolar and some mental issues, so we like to support anything along those lines,” Mallow said.

Sutch said he spent 40 years of his life in education and has been volunteering his time for the Knights’ Tootsie Roll Drive for 30 years.

“I’ve seen kids with problems and I just like to help them out when I can,” he said.

Dan Wawiernia coordinates the drive for the St. Rita council. He said the council’s donations go to four different programs that serve the mentally impaired:

St. Francis Camp on the Lake, a 501-(c) 3, nonprofit organization committed to providing the ultimate camp experience to children and adults with developmental disabilities. The camp is located on U.S. 12 in Jerome.

St. Louis Center in Chelsea, a caring residential community grounded in compassion and the understanding that all people are equal in dignity, regardless of ability. With kindness, patience, personalized services and abundant opportunities, the residents of St. Louis Center are encouraged to reach their full human potential.

A special religious education program for adults and children with developmental disabilities in all Jackson area Catholic parishes, held at Queen of the Miraculous Medal School in Jackson.

Rainbow Homes in Holt, which provides ecumenical Christian housing and services for adults with cognitive disabilities. Residents grow personally and spiritually to reach their God-given potential; all while being nurtured in a home-like Christian setting.

Terry Schaefer, a Knight with St. Joseph Shrine Council 6223, was at Brooklyn McDonald’s drive-thru. He said he didn’t realize how busy McDonald’s was every day, as cars stopped to donate.

“It’s a beautiful day to do it,” he said. “Everyone who’s coming through here has been happy. The happier they are, the more they donate.

“It’s definitely a ‘hotspot’,” he said of his collection location, jokingly adding, “We’re not giving it to St. Rita.”

Joseph Graham of Belleville stopped where Schaefer was standing and stuffed a sizable donation into Schaefer’s Tootsie Roll canister. He thought of his contribution as “paying it forward.”

“I’ve had more than my fair share of bad luck in my life,” he said. “I know what it’s like to be down.”

The Knights of Columbus is a national Catholic fraternal organization that supports a multitude of charitable causes. In the last decade, the Order has given more than $1.55 billion to charity.

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