Diocese, parishes aid Katrina victims


Catholics across the state were moved to immediate action as images of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation were published in national media. The sights generated an outpouring of generosity before Bishop Robert J. Baker requested a special collection in the parishes. By Sept. 12, Catholic Charities had received more than $194,139 in donations from individuals, foundations and parishes for victim relief.

Tom Keith, president of the Sisters of Charity Foundation, was one of the first to contact the outreach pledging the foundation’s support of Catholic Charities relief efforts, both in the Gulf and in South Carolina. The foundation donated $15,000 with $7,500 earmarked for local efforts.

Parishes that have already sent initial donations of over $10,000 include: St. Peter in Beaufort, $22,744; St. Joseph in Columbia, $22,649; Our Lady of the Lake in Chapin, $13,144; Holy Spirit on Johns Island, $12,662; St. John Neumann in Columbia, $11,743; Blessed Sacrament in Charleston, $11,692; and St. Mary Magdalene in Simpsonville, $10,000.

Large or small, urban or rural, rich or poor, South Carolina Catholics are heeding the pleas of the less fortunate and giving what they can. Offers of help, housing, volunteers, goods and services have been overwhelming.

The traditional focus of Catholic Charities agencies in times of disaster is long-term recovery, but the magnitude and scope of Hurricane Katrina have seen us more involved in immediate response than ever before.

Activities that are taking place across the diocese include the following:

At the central office in Charleston, Linda Collins constructed the database tracking and coordinating services across the state while fielding calls from storm victims and volunteers, and tracking donations. The office is in daily communication with Catholic Charities USA.

Coastal Catholic Charities is providing case management, linkages for housing, and financial assistance for gas, prescriptions, utilities and other basic needs to more than 30 families who evacuated to the Lowcountry, while continuing normal operations and preparing for the possible relocation of more than 300 military families.

The evacuees who made their way to Conway and North Myrtle Beach on their own, only to learn that they have likely lost everything but what they were able to pack into a car, were seen by Catholic Charities in the Pee Dee. The staff and a small, mighty army of volunteers are providing case management to over 75 families, along with food and gas vouchers, financial assistance, information packets, a listening ear, and treats. Some of the most heartbreaking stories have come from frantic parents separated from their children. The agency has focused on helping individuals and families make contact with each other and with former employers.

Parishioners of St. Anne and St. Anthony churches in Florence have put together teams of people willing to welcome and support evacuees as they are brought into the Florence Civic Center by FEMA. The Red Cross is expecting more than 300 people to come through the center over the next few weeks. Catholic Charities will see people at St. Anthony Church on Wednesdays and Thursdays to provide long-term case management services as long as the need is there.

Catholic Charities Midlands is seeing more referrals for displaced persons, such as the teacher at a New Orleans Catholic school that will not reopen for all of the 2005-2006 school year. The Red Cross, many volunteers, and other organizations have met some immediate needs of storm victims who have come to Columbia. The focus will be on long-term case management and the problems that will surely arise from being unable to return home for an indeterminate time. Meanwhile, the number of local clients who need our assistance has increased tremendously. An already overburdened system has been forced to divert time and resources to victims of Hurricane Katrina. Catholic Charities Midlands has attempted to fill this void and handle the increased call volume from local residents needing our services.

Finally, Catholic Charities of the Piedmont with our Catholic collaborative partners, pastors, parishioners and other agencies are responding to the needs of evacuees who have been transported to the Palmetto Center in Greenville. Hundreds of comfort kits have been assembled and distributed. Sister Margie Hosch and a team of volunteer therapists have been working the night shift at the Palmetto Center offering comfort and counseling to more than 200 people sheltered there on any given night. Local pastors have been working to form a pastoral care team to meet the spiritual and sacramental needs of these victims.

This is a small sample of the many disaster response services that Catholic Charities has provided and doesn’t begin to touch upon the many thousands of acts of charity and love being demonstrated in all of our parishes.

Our work has just begun. We ask for your prayers, ideas, time, and continued support as together, brothers and sisters in Christ, we put our faith into action.

Dorothy Grillo is director of the Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Charleston.