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Sister Martha Keller, pastoral associate of Saint Jerome Catholic Church in Fancy Farm, Kentucky, stands with Knights of Columbus from the Dioceses of Camden and Trenton Feb. 9 outside Saint Joseph Catholic Church in Mayfield. From left, Knights Gregory Kane, John Flynn, Raymond Sands and David Goeller. (Courtesy photo)

Towing a trailer full of canned goods and fresh water behind his pickup truck, David Goeller pulled out of his Williamstown driveway the evening of Feb. 8 facing 900 miles of open road.

Beside him sat Raymond Sands, and after an all-night drive, the two Knights of Columbus would be witnessing firsthand the devastation caused by the December tornado system that swept through Mayfield, Kentucky.

“The town was gone,” Sands said, describing rubble, bulldozers and blocked roads.

Goeller recalled “trees snapped and splintered.”

On Dec. 10 and 11, a series of tornadoes ripped through Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Tennessee and Kentucky, killing dozens and leaving many in desperate need due to leveled homes, businesses and churches in towns such as Mayfield. (Courtesy photo)
Boarded up properties like this are just one of the many signs of destruction in Mayfield. (Courtesy photo)

Mayfield was among the towns hardest hit by multiple tornados late Dec. 10 into early Dec. 11, including one that was on the ground for more than 200 miles, leveling communities across numerous states and killing more than 75 people in Kentucky.

Sands, New Jersey State Secretary of the Knights of Columbus, remembers learning of the storm’s wrath from his home in Ocean View and quickly connecting with Knights from the Msgr. Russell Council #1418 from Saint Jerome Catholic Church in Fancy Farm, Kentucky.

“They told me the town was wiped out and anything we could do would be much appreciated,” recalled Sands, a parishioner of Saint Gianna Beretta Molla Parish, Northfield.

In response, Knights from the Camden Diocese collaborated with councils from the Diocese of Trenton in a “Hope and Help Kentucky Aid” campaign. The effort is “what the Knights of Columbus is all about – in service to one, in service to all,” said Goeller, District Deputy of District 54 in the Diocese of Camden and a parishioner of Our Lady of the Lakes, Collings Lakes.

The immediate need was money, so the Diocese’s Knights quickly sent $500 in VISA cards to the relief effort. Next, the two area assemblies – Francis Araneo and Saint John Paul II – mobilized their councils for a planned January drop-off in Kentucky. Delayed plans, however, allowed more time for collaboration with the Diocese of Trenton Knights.

Raymond Sands, New Jersey State Secretary for the Knights of Columbus, helps load a truck with boxes Feb. 8 hours before he and fellow Knight David Goeller drove from Williamstown to Mayfield, Kentucky. (Dave Hernandez)

So after a few hours on the road Feb. 8, Sands and Goeller rendezvoused at a rest stop in Hagerstown, Maryland, with two Knights from the Diocese of Trenton: John Flynn, District Deputy of District 24, and Gregory Kane, both part of the Rev. Joseph Donnelly Council at Our Lady of Perpetual Help-Saint Agnes Parish, Atlantic Highlands. The four formed a transport, continuing on to Saint Joseph Catholic Church in Mayfield, the distribution center for the relief effort.

David Goeller, District Deputy of District 54 in the Diocese of Camden, takes a box of supplies from Raymond Sands outside Goeller’s home in Williamstown before the two drove overnight to reach Kentucky. (Dave Hernandez)

Combined, they carried the collections from Knights’ chapters, councils and assemblies, along with schools and small businesses from two dioceses: more than 10,000 pounds of canned goods, toiletries, baby items, water, pet food, winter coats and $9,020.

Arriving at Saint Joseph Church, they were greeted by 20 brother Knights; Father Eric Riley, parish pastor; and Sister Martha Keller, pastoral associate at Saint Jerome Catholic Church in Fancy Farm, one of the lead organizers for the relief effort.

Kentucky’s Knights of Columbus organize relief supplies for tornado victims outside the distribution center at Saint Joseph Catholic Church. (Courtesy photo)

“They were so grateful,” said Flynn, adding that a woman’s group from his parish created handmade rosaries for the affected community.

After witnessing a landscape littered with downed trees and twisted metal, as well as leveled businesses, uninhabitable homes and damaged churches, the travelers said they see God’s hand in the relief efforts.

“We learned that a main water tower for the town had been destroyed. Before we even got it off the pallet, people were coming in and grabbing the jugs of water,” Sands recalled.

Children who had lost everything were quick to grab stuffed animals, delayed gifts from a lost 2021 Christmas. “A little girl left with her mother, squeezing it tight,” he continued.

Knights of Columbus from Kentucky and New Jersey unload a pallet of food, fresh water and more outside Saint Joseph Catholic Church in Mayfield. The town was among the hardest-hit during a tornado system that moved through the state Dec. 10-11. (Courtesy photo)

After the eight pallets of supplies were unloaded, the four Knights had just enough time to accept a lunch of fried chicken, butter beans and corn, a gesture, they said, that surprised and touched the visitors.

“We’ve just come to help them out, and here they are, feeding us,” Goeller said, his voice catching. “All they could say was thank you.”

All told, the four New Jersey Knights spent two hours in Kentucky before turning their trucks back east.

The connection between the New Jersey and Kentucky Knights councils will continue, Sands said, adding that it is hoped that a Zoom conference next month will take place between the two parties, with more Knights and relief leaders able to take part.

“We need to reach out, introduce ourselves and see the faces of those we help,” he said.

In addition to addressing the needs of their own parishes and communities, the Diocese of Camden’s Knights of Columbus continue to step up when help is called for around the state, country and world. Last year, they collected almost $8,000 for Texas residents without power after ice storms. 

“God is calling us to help; we have to give hope,” Sands said.

In a letter sent to Sands last week, Father Darrell Venters, pastor of Saint Jerome Catholic Church, expressed his gratitude for the items and financial assistance collected, which included $4,000 for the Kentucky Knights of Columbus State Council, $3,000 for Saint Joseph Church and $2,000 for Saint Jerome Church.

“It is a sign to all of us of God’s goodness that comes to us through other people,” he wrote. “[It is] also proof for me there is a lot of good and faithful people in the world.”