EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 6, 2013

Salem Knights know how to pay it forward

Salem Knights of Columbus keep the circle moving

By Jo-Anne MacKenzie

---- — SALEM — One good deed led to another, which then led to a third.

The cycle started when Elizabeth Gonzales stopped at a Dunkin’ Donuts in Tyngsborough. She and her baby were on their way from Texas to visit her grandparents, Ken and Margaret Akerley of Salem.

Elizabeth’s husband, Army Capt. Michael Gonzales, is serving in Afghanistan. He’s a fan of Dunkin’ Donuts K-Cups and his wife inquired about buying a case of them to send him.

When she handed the clerk $100 to pay for them, her grandfather said, she was told they already had been paid for. A gentleman waiting in line behind her apparently overheard her conversation with the clerk and stepped up.

“The only thing we know is his name is George,” Ken Akerley said. “He just paid for it and left. The K-cups are on their way to Afghanistan.”

But the story doesn’t end there.

When Gonzales reached Salem, she shared the story with Akerley, then handed him a $100 bill.

“She wanted to pay it forward,” Akerley said, a past grand knight of the Salem Knights of Columbus, Bishop Peterson Council 4442.

At first, Akerley wasn’t sure what to do with it.

“Very rarely do the Knights of Columbus get donations,” he said. “We give money away.”

But then he decided what he would do with it.

“I took the $100 to the (Knights) meeting and handed it over to Paul St. Amand,” Akerley said.

St. Amand is the man behind the Knights’ ongoing mission to send care packages to soldiers serving in hotspots overseas.

Since April 2004, the Knights of Columbus have sent 372 packages, weighing a total of 5,361 pounds, St. Amand said.

“We send a couple of packages every month,” he said. “We try do it to anonymously.”

St. Amand gets soldiers’ names from anysoldier.com, a website that provides the names of soldiers as contacts for care packages.

“We choose a random person, but just make sure it’s someone in Iraq or Afghanistan,” he said. “We send things they might want, not things they need.”

Tootsie Rolls are often included in the packages. Soldiers like to hand them out to children, he said, and the candy is resistant to temperature extremes.

St. Amand also includes a short letter to the recipients.

The return has been tremendous.

The Knights have a binder about 5 inches thick filled with postcards, letters and photographs from grateful recipients.

“But I think our most prized possessions are two American flags,” he said, “one flown over Kabul and one flown Saddam Hussein’s palace in February 2006.”

So, that $100 bill, originally meant to send a box of Dunkin Donuts coffee to an Army captain, will likely be donated to the anysoldier.com website, an all-volunteer operation, so they can continue to spread the word and support the troops, St. Amand said.