Disaster response plan taking effect in diocese


In the aftermath of last September’s Hurricane Floyd, which featured jammed highways full of evacuees from the Lowcountry and packed motels from Tennessee to Alabama, Bishop Robert J. Baker encouraged the diocesan Catholic Charities office to do some concrete planning around disaster response.

As a result, a Disaster Response Guide was developed, and deanery meetings are being held across the state to tailor the efforts of parishes in their local communities.

At a meeting with more than 20 parishioners at the Cathedral Center in Charleston on July 11, Dorothy Grillo, director of Catholic Charities, said that the manual was compiled after obtaining input from Catholic Charities USA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and other dioceses around the country, as well as federal, state and county preparedness programs.

She said the purpose of gathering the information was to prepare the diocese and its parishes for any kind of disaster  such as hurricanes, storms, or chemical spills  and to serve an important role in getting information out to the poor, migrants, elderly and shut-ins.

For Catholic Charities, Grillo said, the long-term relief aspect is the “best niche to focus on.” She reiterated that the Pee Dee Catholic Charities office is still involved in relief efforts of Hurricane Floyd in Conway.

“Any kind of disaster planning needs to be parish based,” she said. “The goal is to bring parishes together to network, talk, and plan.”

Grillo explained that disaster planning is an ongoing process.

“The Disaster Response Guide should trigger the types of things you should think about,” she said.

The book identifies responsibilities for specific duties at the church, such as securing the building and the Blessed Sacrament, care of computers, looking after the homebound in the parish, and identifying pockets of people who may have no transportation.

The role of Catholic Charities is to help facilitate this process, said Grillo, in addition to helping churches “identify a talent bank” of volunteers. Among the duties of these parishioners could be the distribution of donated goods.

According to Grillo, it is important for parishes to discern what they can and cannot do and to determine their most appropriate role in relief efforts.

“There is a tremendous emotional impact after these experiences,” she said. “Many of the most vulnerable folks have no idea how to access the system. We have to be strong vocal advocates for these people.”

At a Pee Dee Deanery gathering held at St. Anthony’s in Florence on June 29, the toll that a disaster takes on its victims was told on a personal level

Al Belge is no stranger to disaster relief, having volunteered in the aftermath of Hurricane Hugo.

After the American Red Cross asked for food deliveries, Belge drove a van to distribute and pick up food.

“We covered whatever areas we could,” he said.

To Belge, the disaster relief teams are needed, and he thinks it is a great idea and one that is very timely.

“To me, it’s very essential,” he said. “Most of the people who need help are poor people.”

Helping out during Hurricane Hugo instilled a great sense of community pride in volunteers, according to Belge. “I was happy because I was doing something. I think it is important to plan it in advance.”

Belge is impressed with the ecumenical aspect of helping others with outreach.

Dennis Diamond of Dillon attended the meeting. He assisted victims during Hurricane Hugo and was a victim himself.

“I worked in McClellanville and Georgetown during Hugo, and we went to help Father George Moynihan,” he said. “I lost a car and my roof in the storm.”

“Many migrants don’t know that there is a disaster happening,” noted Deacon John Kiely of Lake City, who supports Hispanic seasonal farm workers, translating and visiting camps.

Judy Larkin of Infant Jesus Church in Marion said, “There is a definite need,” she said. “People want to volunteer and help, and I think this is a great way to serve.”

Grillo said that historically, Catholic Charities has tried to focus on the needs of the elderly.

Regional coordinators in the Coastal, Pee Dee, Midlands, and Piedmont deaneries are meeting on a regular basis to review parish plans and are working to link up inland churches to those in vulnerable areas.

However, it was emphasized by Grillo that “Catholic Charities is not trying to supplant the role of government in disaster relief or working to duplicate services. We stress that individuals are responsible for their own family preparedness. We’re here to facilitate the process.”

Jordan McMorrough, Nancy Schwerin, and Tim Bullard contributed to this article.