Lined up along the edge of the parking lot, a group of about 80 hunters were ready, bags in hand. At the front of the line, the Easter Bunny raised his arms as he counted: “One! Two! Three! Go!”
And they were off. In a matter of minutes, hundreds of plastic Easter eggs were scooped up from the lot. With their quarry secured, the hunters eagerly retreated to the warmth of the Knights of Columbus hall to sort through the treasure on a cold and overcast Palm Sunday afternoon.
This was not your average Easter egg hunt. For 33 years, the Knights of Columbus Our Lady of Fatima Council #4429 in Hazelwood has sponsored the John Stevens Memorial Handi-Capable Easter Egg Hunt for people with special needs. The free event, made possible through donations, includes a hot dog lunch and Easter-themed stuffed animals for participants to take home. The Knights of Columbus Clown Club of St. Charles provided entertainment.
The Knights collaborate with Boy Scout Troop 748 to organize the event. The troop, chartered through council 4429, is one of three in the Greater St. Louis Area Council composed only of Scouts with special needs.
The Scouts, ranging in age from teens to 50s, help hide the eggs beforehand, cook hot dogs and set up for lunch. Scout Bobby Engemann, who runs the popcorn machine, was eager to share his expertise.
“I’m gonna put one in there,” he said, as he prepared a pouch of popcorn kernels and oil to put into the machine. “Turn the motor on.” Then the wait began. “Five minutes,” he said, matter-of-factly.
His father, Bob Engemann, said his son and the others have received many opportunities through Scouting, including earning merit badges and camping adventures at the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness at the Minnesota/Canada border, and Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico.
“I know there are some folks out there who will tell us that we could exist perfectly fine in a normal troop,” Engemann said. “That works until they start to get older. And then they don’t feel like they have peers. That’s where we’re an ideal fit.”
The hunt is named in memory of former Knight John Stevens, who had a grandson with special needs. The event started with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and in 1985, the Knights took on sponsorship.
“It has definitely grown over the years,” said Pat Green, who organized it for several years with her husband, Ron. “The first year we had 20-something people. Before we got involved with this, we were involved in the Special Olympics. It was just so easy when they had the need for someone to help right here, we just eased into it.”
Part of the Knights’ mission focuses on fostering dignity of all human life. The Easter egg hunt fits right into that mission, said Mike Mueller, the council’s Grand Knight.
“This is one event where everyone shows up,” he said. “When you see all of these hunters show up, it’s quite moving.” The council also is involved in other pro-life activities, including praying in front of Planned Parenthood, making Christmas baskets for people in need, and the annual Tootsie Roll drive, which supports programs for people with disabilities.
“This is one of the friendliest events we’ve been to,” said Mary Cagle, who with her husband Leroy, bring their 62-year-old son, Tim, every year. “They do everything together and are very helpful. We really enjoy coming to their facility.”
Asked about his favorite part of the day, Tim Cagle said with a huge grin: “The clowns.”