Pella Knights ease the chill of homelessness

Knights of Columbus, from front to back, Brian Huddle, Jason Sandholt and Nathan Bierl of St. Mary Parish in Pella delivered tanks of propane to individuals who are homeless in Des Moines last month.

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

Getting to know people who struggle with homelessness is essential to changing perceptions, said Mike Vos, a member of St. Mary Parish in Pella and a volunteer with Joppa in Des Moines.

Vos and other Knights of Columbus from the Pella council work with Joppa during the winter to provide propane, winter gear and other necessities to more than 300 individuals living outdoors in Des Moines. Volunteering “really humanizes these people,” Vos said. “Yes, you see mental illness and substance abuse but most are just in a bad situation. They have the same needs as you and me.”

Joppa collaborates with community partners to help people who are homeless to access existing resources. The nonprofit also utilizes private donations from families, churches and organizations to respond to unmet needs in homeless services, housing and education. “Heat Team” members and volunteers make weekly deliveries along five routes to individuals in need of that assistance. The number of people living in tents, shacks, trailers and campers has grown by about 100 over the past three years, said Joe Stevens, Joppa CEO and cofounder. He believes the increase is due to a lack of affordable housing, the COVID-19 pandemic and inflation.


Most of the people living along the routes are single adults or couples, Vos said. “There is a little more support (available) for children and families from a sheltering standpoint.”

Providing heat is essential when the weather grows cold and Joppa ensures everyone who wants heat in Des Moines has access to a propane heater and fuel. These heaters “put out pretty good heat” when run in a tent on the lowest setting, Vos said. A 20-pound container of propane lasts up to 100 hours.

Although local shelters relax their rules during periods of extreme cold, many people living along the routes choose to remain outdoors because they are afraid of being ransacked or don’t want to leave pets behind, Stevens said. Joppa helps those who choose to stay by providing extra tanks of propane.

The Pella Knights began working with Joppa in 2016, sporadically at first. Now, the Knights travel 45 miles to Des Moines on the third Saturday of the month to help Joppa’s Heat Team deliver supplies. The Heat Team is active from December through April, taking around two to four hours to complete the routes. “It’s very eye-opening,” said Joe Lickteig, a former Grand Knight. Volunteers appreciate the struggles faced by those along the routes. “It’s been very good for some of us and has made a major impact.”

Vos started out volunteering monthly with the Pella group and now devotes more time, as a route co-leader. “If I don’t have something else scheduled, I’ll go,” he said. “I enjoy reaching out to the individuals in these camps.”

The Pella Knights have encouraged other councils to get involved in the Heat Team. “They challenged the Knights from Sacred Heart in West Des Moines, and they took that challenge,” Stevens said. “Because of them (the Pella Knights), we have more Knights involved and even more participation… some come out every week.”

The Pella Knights also encourage others to get involved. Members of St. Mary Parish recently donated outdoor gear, blankets, water and personal hygiene items for Joppa volunteers to distribute.

“I cannot say enough good things about the Knights,” Stevens said. “They are so faithful and diligent and committed and generous… it’s a labor of love.”

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