Ready to Respond
Ohio Knights assist their community following an environmental disaster
By Elisha Valladares-Cormier
Since 38 cars of a freight train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 3, sparking fires and releasing hazardous chemicals into the air and waterways, the village’s 4,700 residents have needed help. Knights in East Palestine and nearby towns have risen to the occasion, with assistance from Knights around the country.
“It wakes you up out of your slumber when something like this happens,” said Rich Ferris, grand knight of Reagan Council 1890 in East Palestine. “These Knights will help at the drop of a dime.”
A few days after the derailment, many residents were required to evacuate while officials conducted a “controlled venting” of toxic substances. In the town of Columbiana, 10 miles west, St. Jude Council 10183 served meals to displaced people. Then, as residents returned to East Palestine, Our Lady of Lourdes Parish began receiving calls offering water, food and more. Knights from Council 1890 jumped into action, unloading donated supplies into the church basement as they arrived.
“I’ll hear that a delivery is a half-hour out and send a text to 20 Knights,” Ferris said. “No one responds, but I know guys will be there.”
Even weeks after the incident, Knights continue to unload deliveries four to five times a week to restock the basement, where people receive free supplies daily. With residents uneasy about possible phosgene and hydrogen chloride poisoning, bottled water and cleaning materials are particularly in demand.
Donations have come in from councils in Ohio and Pennsylvania, as well as the Supreme Council. And Ferris has received calls from councils across the country offering aid.
“I’m so grateful the Knights stepped up to the needs of our community,” said Father David Misbrener, pastor and council chaplain. “They’re always present.”
When the attention dies down, Ferris said, the need will remain; the long-term effects of the disaster won’t be known for years. With help from a disaster relief fund established by the Ohio State Council, the Knights will continue supporting their community.
“It’s been an emotional roller coaster,” Ferris said. “But the kindness and prayers we’ve received has restored my faith in humanity.”
ELISHA VALLADARES-CORMIER is associate editor of Columbia and a member of Sandusky (Ohio) Council 546.