‘I Can, You Can, We Can!’

Created: Mar 07, 2024
Category: General News

Knights encourage Lenten almsgiving with 40 Cans for Lent food drives

By Cecilia Engbert



Dennis Chaput was lying awake at 4 in the morning in September 2010 when inspiration struck. As he tried to fall back to sleep after a diabetic attack, he heard God ask him to start a food drive with a simple but effective format: inviting parishioners and other members of the community to donate one grocery item for every day of Lent.

Chaput wasted no time bringing the plan to his brother Knights in Our Lady of Guadalupe Council 8306 in Helotes, Texas, and the council held its first “40 Cans for Lent” food drive at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in March 2011.

Thirteen years later, the idea of a “40 Cans for Lent” food drive has been adopted by K of C councils from Maine to Alaska, bringing in countless donations to feed hungry families. In that time, Council 8306 alone has collected approximately 221,000 pounds of food and more than $56,000 in monetary donations for Archdiocese of San Antonio Catholic Charities.

“I didn’t create this; I just listened,” said Chaput. “Forty Cans for Lent is God’s plan. When we do this food drive, we honor him because this is what he’s called us to do. Our slogan is ‘I can, you can, we can.’ I can donate and you can donate, we all can donate and then we make a difference in this world for Jesus Christ.”

Lent is an optimal time to hold a food drive since donations to banks and pantries sometimes dry up in the first months of the year, after the holiday giving season ends. At the same time, a food drive offers parishioners a concrete opportunity to fulfill their Lenten obligation to give alms. Contributors can bring their 40 items all at once or incrementally; some people are only able to donate a few cans, but each donation, no matter how small, is welcomed.

“This year, our food pantry is really, truly being tested. There are a lot of people who are struggling to put food on the table,” said Tara Ford, chief development officer of Archdiocese of San Antonio Catholic Charities. Building on Chaput’s idea, the organization now promotes a 40 Cans for Lent drive throughout the archdiocese, which Ford said is “a critical campaign for us to stock our food pantry.”

In Maine, three councils joined forces more than 10 years ago to organize a 40 Cans for Lent food drive in the Portland region. Last year, St. Maximilian Kolbe Council 11747 and Calvary Council 8144 in Scarborough and Cheverus Council 2344 in Portland collected more than 7,000 pounds of canned food donations from members of St. John Paul II Parish in Scarborough; their goal for this Lent is 7,600 pounds. All donations go to the South Portland Food Cupboard.

“We try to help our community and our parish all year round,” said Grand Knight Kevin Curtis of Council 11747. “But this particular project is very impactful — there’s a big need. Our parishioners have come to know that it’s going to happen and are very happy to support it.”

The idea for the drive has even been taken up by other food banks and Christian churches in the area, Curtis added.

Councils can get creative in how they advertise the drive and attract needed items. In Helotes, the Knights have theme weekends, designating different Sundays of Lent as “Peanut Butter Sunday,” “Mac ’n’ Cheese Sunday” and so on.

Knights in Airdre (Alberta) Council 8045 involve several local Catholic schools in their 40 Cans for Lent food drive, and the schools encourage participation with promotions like “Caps for Cans” days, when students and staff can wear ballcaps if they donate.

“The students get a sense of involvement and charitable giving,” said Wayne MacGillivary, a member of Council 8045 who helped start the drive in Airdre. “Throughout the Lenten season, this teaches the kids to give service and demonstrate love for their community.”

With the support of the Catholic schools and St. Paul’s Parish in Airdre, Council 8045 raised $28,000 last year in food and monetary donations for the Airdre Food Bank, which feeds more than 600 families per week. The council has raised over $120,000 since beginning the drive six years ago.

“We started it because we saw the need in the local area and wanted to help the food bank and families in need,” MacGillivary said. “It has gradually increased over the years, and we have tremendous support.”

Chaput encourages every council to consider running a Lenten food drive as part of the Order’s Food for Families program, whether or not they adopt the “40 Cans” format.

“God has called the Knights of Columbus to fight hunger, and each council can do it their own way,” he said. “How you donate and how you distribute the food is up to you; find a food bank and donate locally. But just do it.”


CECILIA ENGBERT is a content producer for the Knights of Columbus communications department.