The presentation of a Star Council Award to a Knights of Columbus Council “is truly a distinction of a well-rounded council.”

That was the sentiment Bill Mazzio expressed when he learned that the St. Mary of the Lakes Council in Medford had recently been honored with the top award by the Knights of Columbus’ Supreme Council. The award recognizes a council for its overall excellence in the areas of membership, recruitment and retention, probation of the fraternal insurance program, and sponsorship of service-oriented activities for youth, family, community and Church.

“We have a great core of men who have decided it is time to give back to those less fortunate around us,” Mazzio, grand knight, said of the council’s 277 members. He noted that over the past four years, the council has grown by more than 50 members.

“Of course, in today’s world, finding time is the biggest hurdle. That is why we need to grow as a council every year so that the burden of time does not fall on just a few people,” Mazzio said. “If every Knight can spare an hour or two a month, or a year, it all adds up and things can get accomplished quickly.”

Mazzio said the need for assistance has been prevalent in the past six months because of the COVID-19 pandemic and one of the ways council members stepped up to try and alleviate some of that need was through hosting a food collection for the St. Vincent de Paul conference in St. Mary of the Lakes Parish. The conference provides services to all people in need throughout Medford, Medford Lakes, Pemberton and Browns Mills.

The drive is hosted in the parish parking lot, where a trailer is set up to receive donations of non-perishable food items.

The Medford collection was a response to the KOC Supreme Council asking local, national and international membership organizations to participate in the “Leave No Neighbor Behind” initiative to assist a local food bank.

“This worldwide initiative was a part of our ‘Faith in Action’ program that empowers Knights to come together to share their faith and stand shoulder to shoulder in service to community,” Bouchard said.

Other activities the council holds throughout the year include an annual golf outing to benefit area agencies as well as the Annual Hunger Harvest in which Knights stand outside the doorways of local grocery stores asking for donations of non-perishable food supplies for the holiday season.

“This is an overwhelming event for many of us,” Bouchard said of the Hunger Harvest. “The generosity of people who donate food is truly heartwarming.” He noted that the council collects more than 50 carts of groceries per season, along with cash donations.

Bouchard said that especially during the unprecedented time with the coronavirus pandemic, “it is especially important to look outside yourself and into the community in general to help the neediest of us all.

“They could be right next door to you, and you would never know it,” he said.