Monday, November 30, 2009

About the Knights of Columbus, Charity, Food, and Miracles

I'm not among the people who, consciously or not, assume that simply throwing money at a problem solves the problem.

On the other hand, with a few exceptions - like Europe's feudal period and a few local economies today - people have used some sort of money to handle the exchange of goods and services for the last few thousand years. Other systems have been used, like barter, but tend to be inconvenient. Let's say that a fair exchange for a cow was two and a half goats. Have you ever tried to split a goat?

So money is an important part of just about everything. Including, often as not, solving problems.

But, money alone isn't important: it's what money can buy. That, and making sure you buy something that makes sense: but that's another topic, sort of.

Knights of Columbus, Throwing Money at a Problem: Plus Volunteers and Good Sense

I think this is a good idea:
"Knights of Columbus Announces $1 Million for U.S. and Canadian 'Food for Families' Program"

"With the number of Americans and Canadians at risk of hunger far higher than usual and the number of those planning to give to charity at this time of year lower than usual, the Knights of Columbus has committed $1 million and legions of active volunteers to its 'Food for Families' program to collect food and financially support food banks in the United States and Canada this winter.

"Statistics released by the USDA show nearly 50 million Americans experienced 'food insecurity' last year, while new numbers in Canada show those using food banks has increased by 18 percent in the past year.

"The program encourages each state jurisdiction in the United States and each province jurisdiction in Canada to work with their local parish churches and other public places to collect food for food banks in their area. Those states and provinces in which a significant number of councils participate will then be allocated a portion of the $1 million fund for food banks in their areas...."
(Knights of Columbus press release, November 25, 2009)
An important point here is that, although Knights of Columbus's geographic organization follows state and provincial lines, and the K. of C. work (well) within the law, the Knights of Columbus isn't a government operation, and this isn't a government program.

It's run by people who are on the ground where the money and volunteer hours are being spent: and who know both what the situation is, and what they're doing.

Here in central Minnesota, most of us are doing okay, under the circumstances: but we won't have to look very hard to find folks who can use a bit of help with food this winter.

Yeah, "we." I'm part of the Knights of Columbus, and yes: I'm biased. I think the K. of C. does a good job.

"Trust, But Verify"1

That Knights of Columbus press release gave a few numbers, so I did a little checking.

I'm always - not suspicious, but wary - when outfits use big, round numbers. Like "a million." A million dollars isn't quite the big deal it used to be, but it's still a sizable wad of cash.

But, just how far will that million dollars go?

I did a little figuring.

According to the USDA, around 50,000,000 people in America experienced "food insecurity" last year. Take $1,000,000, evenly spread around, and you've got about 20¢ per person. That doesn't sound like much.

But it's a start.

More from that press release:
"...'Food for Families' is one of the many projects in the Knights of Columbus 'Neighbors Helping Neighbors' initiative. The initiative began at a summit on volunteerism as a response to the economic crisis, which the Knights organized in New York City in February. That summit drew leaders from scores of the nation’s top charitable organizations, including: The Salvation Army, Volunteers of America, United Way, Catholic Charities, Points of Light, the National Fraternal Congress, and scores of other groups...."
(Knights of Columbus press release, November 25, 2009)
However will we manage, without someone from the government to tell us what to do? Somehow, I think we'll manage.

Back to that 20¢ per person thing: With other charitable heavyweights, like United Way and Volunteers of America; and volunteers from the 9,300 local Knights of Columbus councils in America and and roughly 2,100 in Canada; I think there may be more than 20¢ for each hungry person at the end of the day.

But, what pitiful pittance can be purchased with but one score pennies?

Two Cans of Soup, 10 Slices of Bread, Peanut Butter and Some Carrots

Even with the relatively low prices that America's agribusiness makes possible for food, not all that much. But let's say that you put a few piles of those pennies: $19 worth.

I found a place ( that sells Campbell's "Split Pea with Ham & Bacon" cans (11.5 ounce) at $19.00 a dozen. That's just under $1.59/can, or roughly $3.17 for two cans. I picked that soup, since it's one I'm familiar with. In this family, a bowl of that soup, two slices of bread, some peanut butter, and most of a carrot make a meal.

At about 2 ½ servings per can, two cans of that soup would make a meal for a family of five, if someone threw in 10 slices of bread and some carrots. Not bad for $3.17. The would million dollars would buy soup for over 300,000 families.

Loaves and Fishes and 20 Cents Per Person

You've probably heard about the time that Jesus of Nazareth started with five loaves and the two fish, fed thousands of people, and had "twelve wicker baskets full of fragments" after everybody had eaten their fill. (Mark 8:43. The whole 'loaves and fishes' account shows up twice in the book: Mark 8:1-10; 6:31-44)

When I was growing up, people who wanted to be taken seriously talked about how people must have really brought their own food, and decided it'd be nice to share. Maybe so, but that would mean that over 5,000 people had been almost inhumanly reticent about eating their sack lunches. (Mark 8:2)

I'm willing to apply Occam's Razor here, and take the explanation that requires the fewest assumptions. I think that the man who identified himself as "I AM," who later experienced death by torture, and didn't stay dead, took five loaves and two fishes - and fed thousands of people with them.

With twelve baskets of crumbs and crusts left over.

Miracles2 are cool. But I rather doubt that we're supposed to wait around for a miracle to handle situations we can take care of more-or-less on our own initiative.

Like sharing with others, when we've got food or other necessary supplies: and others don't.

Finally, another (mercifully brief) quote from that press release. Supreme Knight Carl Anderson was talking about the K.C. program, but I think this is a good idea in general: "...People may not be able to give a lot of money to Charity this Christmas, but many can give a can of soup to help their neighbors...."

(Adapted and expanded from an article for the December K of C Sauk Centre Bulletin, Bishop Busch council number 4863, Sauk Centre, Minnesota.)

Related posts: News and views:
1You may have heard that the phrase, "trust, but verify," was used by former President Ronald Reagan. I've run into the assertion that it's 'really' a Russian proverb: "Доверяй, но проверяй," pronounced something like "doveryai, no proveryai" in American English, using the Latin alphabet.

This could be a case of someone being like Star Trek's ensign Checkov, for whom everything was invented in Russia. Or, President Ronald Reagan might have taken a phrase which he could be reasonably certain was already familiar to his audience, and which communicated the idea he wanted to express.

I did a little checking.

"Доверяй, но проверяй," actually does mean "trust but verify" in Russian.

And, President Reagan (among others) said it. The president was speaking to a number of people at the time, including the Soviet Union's General Secretary Gorbachev: who might reasonably be expected to both understand Russian, and remember some Russian proverbs.

Reagan had summarized a "famous tale" about the swan, the crawfish, and the pike. I don't know what the odds are that you're familiar with it: Ivan Krylov's work may not be near the center of everybody's cultural radar screen.

Anyway, Reagan went on for a bit, then said this:
"...But the importance of this treaty transcends numbers. We have listened to the wisdom in an old Russian maxim. And I'm sure you're familiar with it, Mr. General Secretary, though my pronunciation may give you difficulty. The maxim is: Dovorey no provorey -- trust, but verify...."
"Remarks on Signing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty"
December 8, 1987
Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Archives
While I'm on the general topic, I've run into the assertion that Ronald Reagan's reputation as 'the great communicator' was based on nothing more than his repeating lines out of movies.

It's true, the American president did co-star with a chimp: in "Bedtime for Bonzo" (1951). Before he entered politics, Reagan appeared in quite a few movies and television shows, from "Love Is on the Air" (1937) to "Death Valley Days" (8 episodes, 1964-1965). There's a pretty good filmography of Mr. Reagan at

After memorizing lines for about three decades, I'd be surprised if he didn't remember a few. And, was able to use his memory to pull up a pre-written quote when the occasion called for it.

2A word about miracles.

First, I think they happen. A miracle is:
"A sign or wonder, such as a healing or the control of nature, which can only be attributed to divine power. The miracles of Jesus were messianic signs of the presence of God's kingdom"
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, Glosssary, more at 547)
Second, I don't think that everything that might seem miraculous - like my desk lamp working reliably - is a "miracle." One of my favorite quotes is in a what the author called a sort of contemporary fairy tale:
" 'Your mistake is to think that the little regularities we have observed on one planet for a few hundred years are the real unbreakable laws....' "
(Grace Ironwood, Chapter 17.4, "That Hideous Strength" C. S. Lewis (1946))
People who want, desperately it seems, to believe that all this talk about God isn't so are probably still insisting that dozens - hundreds - of people lied through their teeth in order to endure treatment that's strictly prohibited by the Geneva Convention and UN human rights laws these days. And, in many cases, to die rather unpleasantly.

The alternative is to assume that someone named Jesus, from a Podunk town called Nazareth, was publicly (and messily) executed, and then buried. And that, a few days later, he got out of his tomb, made the rounds of his (astonished) followers, gave them their orders, and left. For the time being. (Matthew 28:19, 20)

Me? I assume that Jesus of Nazareth was who - and what - He said He was. Quite a few people have said that they were God. Jesus convinced a set of fairly hard-headed people from a wide swath of social and economic groups that he was the Son of God.

And, more to the point, showed up for some serious face time to re-energize them and give them marching orders: after he had been killed. Not as a ghost. As a living, eating man. (Luke 24, 41)

Yeah: I'm willing to assume that Jesus was who He said he was. Specifically, "I AM." (John 8:58)

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I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

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Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

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