Last week a family friend called my mother after reading my article about Saratoga WarHorse. Gina Ponessa is a member of the Catholic Daughters of the Americas and a volunteer with the Knights of Columbus. She told my mother that she had a story for me. She sure did.
Joe Fredette and Frank Bunch are not only members of the Saratoga Knights of Columbus but dedicated volunteers adhering to the organization’s four core principals.
Charity. Members of the Knights of Columbus are charged with showing love for their neighbors by conducting food drives or donating to the local food pantry.
Joe and Frank cook. They cook a lot of food for a lot of people throughout Saratoga County. Every week, year-round. They cook a complete dinner for both the men’s and women’s veteran homeless shelters in Ballston Spa as well as cooking for Code Blue during the cold winter months. The Knights have a weekly Fish Fry and numerous benefit dinners throughout the year to help raise funds for local veterans. If veterans from The Vet House or Guardian House come to a monthly dinner they eat for free. “They’ve given so much to the country. It is nice to show them that the community cares about them,” Frank said. Joe echoes Frank’s sentiments. “There should be no homeless veterans in this country,” he said. “We need to show veterans support as they transition back to civilian life. Inviting them to dinner is just our way of showing them we care.”
Unity. Members of the Knights of Columbus know that together they can accomplish far more than individually.
In November of 2015, the Knights hosted a benefit dinner for a local boy and his family. The dinner raised a significant amount of money to help the family defray medical costs for the boy. “This is what it is all about,” Joe said. “If someone reaches out to us or we hear about someone needing help in our community and we can help, we will do whatever we can.” Frank nods in agreement. “Helping our community. It is what the Knights are all about,” Frank said.
The community is better off because of Joe, Frank and other Knights volunteering their time. Veterans staying in the homeless shelters in Ballston Spa were gifted new beds from Taft Furniture. Additionally, the Knights secured new pillows and K-cups for the veteran homeless shelters. This was all made possible because of the money the Knights made over the course of the year through fundraisers and dinners. It is also because the Knights rely on the support and camaraderie with local community members and businesses. The Knights have helped a number of local organizations, including Saratoga Bridges, Wilton Baseball, Make-A-Wish, and all of the local Catholic schools, from fundraising efforts to volunteering.
Joe notes that the Knights have an annual budget and they do their best to meet requests. For this reason, it is sometimes necessary for the Knights to partner with other organizations. “It’s all about helping each other succeed – businesses and the people that live in the community –and that might mean asking local business to pitch in. We are grateful to places like Price Chopper, BJs, and Healthy Living,” Joe said. “We pick up from them weekly and deliver to SOS (Shelters of Saratoga), the Salvation Army food pantry, the Veterans’ homes, and local Churches.”
“But, really, we do what we do for the people living in our community,” Frank said. He remembers not long ago going into one of the local restaurants downtown. A bartender recognized him from one of the veteran dinners. “She became emotional. She was so thankful for the dinner she had received from us while she worked on transitioning from a shelter. It is powerful how we can really impact lives,” he said.
Fraternity. The Knights is a brotherhood that has a long history of supporting families in the name of the Catholic faith.
Joe became more actively involved with the Knights about 5 years ago. He credits the late Joe Mendez, a long-time Knight, and his wife Dottie for getting him more involved with the organization. “Joe and Dottie were bringing food to the vet homes and they asked me to join them one day,” Joe remembers. After Dottie passed away in 2015, her husband, Joe, moved to Virginia to be closer to family. He passed the baton on to Joe Fredette before he left. “He told me to take care of vets. I promised I would and I hope I am making him proud,” Joe said. It was around this time that Code Blue approached the Knights of Columbus asking if the organization might consider donating dinners. Joe agreed. “With all the restaurants in Saratoga Springs, it amazed me that we were one of the only organizations willing to help out Code Blue. This organization, like us, is just trying to do good things for the people in this community. If we can help, we will help,” he said. Joe soon realized he needed help, so he enlisted good friend and neighbor Frank Bunch.
Frank, a newly-retired chemical engineer at the time, was happy to accept Joe’s offer. “I was quickly realizing that all my projects around the house were not taking me that long to finish. I thought it would be a good idea to meet some new people since I was not going to be seeing my customers and co-workers as much. The members of the Knights have become like my second family,” he said.
Patriotism. Members of the Knights of Columbus are patriotic citizens.
The Knights hold an annual benefit dinner with raffles and an auction every September in support of the homeless veterans’ shelters, the local Veterans Affairs (VA) Hospital, Saratoga WarHorse, and other veterans’ organizations. This public event is the largest fundraising effort the Knights hold all year.
The smaller dinners throughout the year are just as important to Frank and Joe. They enjoy cooking dinners for the veterans and serving them at the Knights of Columbus Banquet Hall. “They’ve served this country, now it is our turn to serve them,” Joe said. “Annually, we invite the Veterans from the homeless shelters to a surf & turf dinner and invite active Navy sailors to help us serve and to mingle. It is always a nice camaraderie and mutual respect between those that have served and those that are currently serving,” Frank said. Frank, himself a veteran, enjoys the opportunity to talk with fellow veterans at the dinner. “I’ve met some young guys that were stationed in some of the same places I’ve been stationed. It is a small world really. Comparing stories and just listening to each other is a very bonding experience,” he said.
Joe and Frank adhere to the core principals of the Knights. They don’t volunteer their time for fanfare. They were humbled last year when they were honored at the Hall of Springs by the Veterans and Community Housing Coalition. “We thought our names would be read and that would be it, but it was a wonderful tribute to not just us but the Knights,” Joe said. “We don’t look for things like this, but my hope is that maybe someone at the dinner will hear about the work we are trying to accomplish in the community and offer to help. If that happens, then it has all been worth it.”
The most important thing Joe and Frank want community members to know is that the Knights are open to the public. “All of our social events, the building for weddings, parties and events, our Fish Fry – we welcome the community to it all,” Joe said. “Please come!”
On May 12, the Knights are hosting a public golf tournament at Kingsbury National Golf Course in Hudson Falls, NY. “Anyone can join us for golf and a meal that day,” Frank said. “It is going to be a really fun day. Everyone is welcome.” The cost of the tournament and meal is $99.
The Fish Fry, also open to the public, runs every Friday evening from 5-8 p.m. through Lent. The last one is Friday, March 30. The cost is $11 to dine in; $12 to take out. Dinner consists of fried or baked haddock, French fries or macaroni and cheese, coleslaw, tartar sauce and/or cocktail sauce. There is also New England Clam Chowder and dessert available for an additional cost. “Everything is made fresh. Everything is homemade. Frank and I make it all,” Joe said. Joe credits his mother with teaching him how to get around the kitchen. “My passion for cooking is all because of my mother. I love cooking for people,” he said. Any leftovers from the Fish Fry or any of the Knights hosted dinners is sent to Code Blue and the veteran homes.
After the interview, I sat in my car for a minute and watched as Joe and Frank carried boxes of food from the Knight’s kitchen to Frank’s SUV. They had a scheduled delivery to make to the veteran homeless shelter. I rolled my window down. “Never a dull moment?” I asked. “Our work is never done,” Joe responded with a smile.
For more information about the Knights of Columbus please visit the website: http://www.saratogakofc.com. For information about becoming a member of the Knights please contact Frank and Joe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Emily Marcason-Tolmie, a Saratoga native, is a writer, researcher, wife and mother. Emily and her husband, Ryan, are the parents to two wonderful little boys, ages 4 and 1.