Knights of Columbus Tootsie Roll Drive History

Turning rolls of chewy chocolates into a financial boom for organizations that serve the mentally retarded is a wonderful story. These treats bring in nearly $2 million profit annually in Illinois – the home base for the creation of this giant fund raising process run by the Knights of Columbus.

Thirty years have passed since a group of three Knights from a Council in the Chicago area saw a need that was two way: organizations that served people with mental retardation needed money and the Knights of Columbus in Illinois needed a charitable mission to offer their members. The Knights knew that the Lions, the Shriners, the Elks and other fraternal organizations had members who reached out to the community with a determined focused project.

The men had no difficulty determining the target of their fund raising – the money would go to the mentally retarded because one of the group had a daughter who was mentally retarded and recognized that this category of people needed financial assistance. The process that they planned to use was not too difficult either: they would stand in public places with a receptacle and solicit donations for a token product.

However, the product took some thought. One idea was to distribute seed packets of Forget-Me-Not flowers which provided a good marketing slogan “For the retarded-forget me not”. There were concerns however, that many people would not want seeds, would not use them and say no. The next thought was a Tootsie Roll, a well-established candy from a Chicago based company.

The three decided that the Tootsie Roll would be a good item to use because it was a well recognized item with a good shelf life. The next step was to pilot the program in their own K of C Council in Tinley Park. IL.

They picked a weekend, got men from their Council and got the candy from the Tootsie Roll Company. The men from the council stood at busy stores and intersections with a canister and Tootsie Rolls. They asked for a small donation from the shoppers and passer-bys, for each contribution handed out the candy. The first time collection was highly successful, raising over $30,000 for the two day-effort.

With that encouragement the council submitted a resolution to the state K of C convention to have the candy drive become a statewide program. The resolution was adopted unanimously. From that first drive in 1970 with receipts of $30,000, the Illinois councils have increased their annual profit to nearly two million annually.

The campaign has spread to other states when news of the success in Illinois was published in K of C magazines and newsletters. From the efforts of the one council in Tinley Park, IL the drive to raise funds for people with mental retardation has expanded to 44 states.

Our Council first participated in 1995 and since then we have raised $17,881.84. Last year we submitted $2,300.25.