BOYNTON BEACH | As Hurricane Dorian took residence upon the islands of the Bahamas, Knights of Columbus of Florida went into action.
First order of business — texting with a fellow Knight of Columbus, who is also the leader of the Caribbean nation’s Catholic Church.
“We are in touch with Archbishop (Patrick) Pinder of Nassau by text,” said Ronald Winn, a resident of Pensacola and state disaster response chairman for the Knights of Columbus.
The Florida Council of the Knights of Columbus has had a longtime relationship with the Knights in the Bahamas, which is considered part of the Florida jurisdiction. So when Hurricane Dorian hit the Bahamas, some 68 miles east of the coast of West Palm Beach, the texts between the archbishop and his brother Knights in Florida were traded back and forth.
Winn was prepared to respond to the bishop and his people doing what the Knights are best known: faith in action. Since, July 1, the organization is stepping up service efforts with their new “Disaster Response Program.”
Immediately following Dorian’s landfall in the Bahamas, the organization developed a fundraising campaign posting information about it on their state and supreme council websites.
The donations began pouring in and within 24 hours, the organization had raised more than $100,000 to purchase goods for the Bahamas. Winn is hoping to ship out the first delivery of food and supplies Sept. 9, from a Florida port using a shipping company that works with the Archdiocese of Nassau. Later, when airport conditions are safe, supplies will be transported by planes.
“We talk to the archbishop two or three times a day,” Winn said. “He has given us a list of what he needs. We are working on transporting the items. We are not without resources.”
The Knights of Columbus organization is working with the Archdiocese of Nassau headquartered in Providence Island, the capitol, and partnering up with non-profits including Catholic Charities, Crossroads Alliance, Aerobridge and Angel Flight to carry out relief efforts to the different islands of the Bahamas.
“Things change day by day,” said Winn challenged by the issues associated with coordinating and transporting supplies out of Florida and to the islands in ruins. Many of the airport runways and ports are damaged and unsafe. Others are underwater.
“We are waiting until the airports are safe and in good working order to receive aircraft safely,” he said adding that some Knight members are offering to navigate their own boats to the Bahamas to deliver items.
Looking back, Winn and other Knights in the various councils and dioceses around the state began aggressively putting together a hurricane action plan as hurricane season approached and as the organization’s new Disaster Response Program was starting. The idea of the program was conceived after Hurricane Harvey in 2017 that hit Texas. Hurricane Michael in 2018 that made landfall in the Panhandle was the driving force to get the program up and running this year.
As part of the initiative local Knights, in coordination with jurisdictions and supreme council leadership, are identifying resources and creating a data base of volunteers offering time, talents and equipment to provide hands-on assistance after first responders have done their job and given the all clear after a disaster.
The Disaster Relief program initiated by the organization’s Supreme Council is intended for councils throughout the country. Each state customizes the program to best fit its distinct climate, conditions and possible disasters. As far as the Florida program, the main focus is hurricane disaster response and relief in the state first, but also reaching out to help others in other areas that are in trouble.
Response coordinators have been preparing over the past months. Bill Sodan is the disaster response coordinator for the Diocese of Palm Beach. He works with 21 councils Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Palm Beach and St. Vincent de Paul Society.
“What we have been doing is building this program,” he said. “We have reached out to all the councils giving them information. We are getting people aware of the program.”
Florida State Deputy Scott O’Connor of Pembroke Pines in the Archdiocese of Miami said in a statement, “We have a much more defined program with people and contacts, and we are also working directly with Catholic Charities because they already have an infrastructure in place.”
Floridians and dioceses throughout the state were spared from the deadly path of Hurricane Dorian that developed into a hurricane Aug. 28. The storm moved slowly spinning over the Bahamas for three days and just offshore of Florida brushing the state’s coast and producing high winds and rains that caused flooding, evacuations and closings of airports, businesses and schools.
As of this writing, the hurricane continues up the east coast of the United States bringing more threats, heavy rain and wind to areas including Georgia and South and North Carolina. The Knights of Columbus in those states are bracing for the worst, but hoping for the best and have their programs in place.
The North Carolina State Council continues to post constant information, resources and updates on their website that says, “The North Carolina State Council will maintain this page throughout the storm and after. Please check back from time to time for updates.”
At the start of hurricane season, Archbishop Pinder of Nassau, who is a member of the Knights of Columbus Council 11755, issued a statement encouraging Bahamians to get prepared. “This is an annual exercise for us but we cannot stress enough the importance of being prepared whether a hurricane actually makes landfall on our shores or not. We must never risk being caught unprepared. As we prepare let us pray to be spared from hurricanes this year,” he said.
Experts are calling Hurricane Dorian one of the most powerful hurricanes on record, a storm producing up to 35 inches of rain and gust up to 220 miles per hour, a monster no one was prepared enough for.
Grand Bahama and Abaco were among the worst affected by the storm. Thousands of people are impacted and many are left homeless. The death toll rises and people are missing. People are turning to Facebook to search for their loved ones. The Knights of Columbus are reaching out to brother Knights in the Bahamas, which is considered part of the Florida jurisdiction.
“Everyone is praying,” said Sandra Bastien, a parishioner of St. Andrew in Coral Springs remaining in touch with friends in the Bahamas through Facebook. “I pray that they remain steadfast in building back their islands, and that they come together. I also pray that they know that they are not forgotten.”
Archbishop Pinder continues to be hopeful and thankful according to Winn. “The bishop is grateful for all the efforts we are making on behalf of everyone,” Winn said. “He hopes everyone will continue to pray for the people of the Bahamas.”