CHARLESTON — In a letter to Catholics in South Carolina, Bishop Robert J. Baker thanked his flock for their generosity in responding to the needs of the people along the Gulf Coast whose lives have been devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
“Already your generosity is evident as the collections taken in your parishes begin to come in to Catholic Charities,” Bishop Baker wrote. “The suffering which the victims are enduring is a call to solidarity with them and with the suffering Christ.
“As the scope of the tragedy along the Gulf Coast and especially in Louisiana becomes more apparent, so too does the requirement upon us to respond more deeply become evident,” he said in the letter dated Sept. 6. “The response of the people of the Diocese of Charleston so far is a good first step. Many will be aided by your efforts. The need for a new start for our brothers and sisters, though, is also necessary.”
The bishop urged people to remember that the hardest-hit victims of Hurricane Katrina will not be able to return to their homes for several months, if at all.
“Yet, the course of life does not cease simply because of the devastation,” he said. “Children must be schooled, mothers and fathers must provide a home in which their children may feel safe and grow, a sense of normalcy must return to their everyday lives.”
To help achieve that, Catholic Charities USA and Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Charleston are working together to meet long- and short-term needs of those affected by the storm.
Dorothy Grillo, director of Social Ministries for the diocese, said that the office is working with Catholic healthcare systems in South Carolina that will receive patients from the impacted areas. She said that 1,000 people have been moved from the Astrodome in Houston, Texas, and are expected to be placed in the state’s hospitals.
In Greenville, St. Francis Hospital has already taken in 200 evacuees in need of medical attention.
Grillo said she has heard estimates of a possible 18,000 evacuees coming to South Carolina seeking shelter.
“We are likely looking at a large scale, long-term relief effort,” she said. “It may not be on the scale of those states receiving 250,000, but it’s big for us.”
Grillo said the impact of the hurricane and the relief effort are still fluid situations because no hard data is available yet.
“A lot of patients and their families are being sent to local hospitals so we have to look at the services those families are going to need,” she said. “Instead of host homes, we are helping to compile databases of available rental properties and of people willing to adopt families or persons who were displaced.”
By adopting an evacuated family, Catholics would assist displaced families with transportation to and from a hospital or to stores, and connect them to local resources. Catholic Charities seeks to provide victims with material needs and emotional support.“We’re getting slammed with phone calls from people wanting to help and they are not even here yet,” Grillo said of the hurricane victims. “It’s premature to start collecting things when we don’t know how many people there are or where they are. This is a long-term situation; when everyone else goes away, they are going to still need us.”
Catholic Charities is working with many of the local nonprofit organizations to provide hurricane damage relief. “We’ll be helping these people as long as they need us,” Grillo said. “It’s very difficult to watch this kind of suffering and not want to respond immediately, but we have to put systems in place.”
In his letter, Bishop Baker reminded Catholics that donations are still needed, however. “I humbly ask each of you to pray fervently for the relief of the great suffering with which our brothers and sisters are afflicted and to ask yourselves in what way God is calling you to provide these needs,” he said.
To make a donation, or provide services call (843) 402-9115 ext. 15, go to www.catholic-doc.org/catholiccharities/katrina.html, or send checks made payable to Catholic Charities to: Catholic Charities, Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund, 1662 Ingram Road, Charleston, SC 29407.