Backpacks lift spirits of those in need

Knights of Columbus from St. Mary Parish in Solon delivered backpacks filled with care items to Iowa City Catholic Worker earlier this year.

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

Volunteer Maureen Vasile observes that many Iowa City Catholic Worker houseguests carry their belongings in plastic grocery sacks. A backpack can make a huge difference to a new immigrant or an individual experiencing homelessness, from both a practical standpoint and an emotional one, she said.

Solon Knights of Columbus recently hosted a parish-wide drive to collect backpacks and care items for Iowa City Catholic Worker (ICCW), an organization that houses around 50 people between its two locations and serves free meals four days a week to community members in need. Guests who come for meals can also take showers and do laundry. “Our intention was to brighten someone’s life as they are going through their tough time,” said Grand Knight Frank Klima. “We wanted to include things that would help them.”

When ICCW co-founder Emily Sinnwell gave one of the backpacks to a regular lunch guest, “it just turned his whole day around,” Vasile recalled. “He was just thrilled to get it, let alone find that there were things in the backpack.”


Klima suggested the backpack drive to his fellow Knights after reading about a similar project in the Willis Dady Shelter-Cedar Rapids newsletter. “I thought that would be a great idea for us to do.” The council encouraged parishioners to donate backpacks, hygiene items, non-perishable snacks, blankets, socks, tents, sleeping bags and religious items. Bulletin announcements included a list of in-need items. Father Charles Fladung, the parish’s pastor, promoted the drive and invited Knights to make announcements at the end of Mass.

Over a period of several weeks, parishioners donated enough items to fill 14 backpacks. Parishioner Rita Klostermann donated several handmade quilts. “The response was tremendous,” Klima gushed. Knights supplemented the donations to ensure each backpack had enough items from each category.

Solon Knights filled and delivered the backpacks to Iowa City Catholic Worker in late spring. “It was an amazing donation,” said Vasile, ICCW’s donation coordinator. The Knights reached out to her during the planning process to ensure the backpacks and enclosed items would meet guests’ needs. A list of contents accompanies each bursting-at-the-seams backpack.

Volunteers distribute the backpacks as needed. A new resident was very grateful to have received a backpack recently, especially since he may be riding a bike to work, Vasile said.

Bill Wieland, a past grand knight, said the drive was intended to be a one-time effort. However, the response from the parish and ICCW prompted the council to make the backpack drive an ongoing initiative. “We have enough” to make a couple more backpacks, he said.

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