South Carolina Catholics give over $1 million in hurricane relief


CHARLESTON — As relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina evacuees continue, Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Charleston has been overwhelmed with cases.

By Nov. 2 there were 3,860 evacuees registered through the Federal Emergency Management Act in the state of South Carolina. More than 1,000 heads of households were registered in the Midlands alone.

Catholic Charities is unique in that it offers long-term aid to those in need. According to Dorothy Grillo, director of Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Charleston, the organization’s teams are master’s level professionals who offer assistance for the whole person. Other organizations such as the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army provide the initial front-line assistance of basic necessities.

“Catholic Charities has done things a bit differently this time due to the scope of Hurricane Katrina,” Grillo said. “Although our role historically has been to provide long-term care, we find ourselves doing that as well as working with front-line assistance. Due to the slow response of the government agencies we found ourselves providing services from the beginning.”

To date, Catholic Charities USA has raised $90 million to support local Catholic Charities efforts and more than $35 million has already been allocated to nearly 60 agencies and other Catholic institutions to support recovery work. In South Carolina, parishes have donated a total of $1,078,062 to hurricane victims, with Our Lady Star of the Sea in North Myrtle Beach contributing the largest sum in the amount of $58,632.

“Our Lady Star of the Sea has been unbelievable in their willingness to help,” said Diane Bullard, coordinator for the Pee Dee Deanery. “They came forward and allowed us to use their facilities for an evacuee reunion celebration.”

The parish threw a party for the hurricane victims — complete with a jazz band — so they could get to know one another. Some of them found that they came from the same neighborhood.

“This is nothing new for us since we live in the disaster capital of South Carolina,” Bullard said. “What is unique is that for the first time we are being called upon to assist the entire diocese in disaster relief.”

The bulk of the donations have come in the form of housing, furniture, clothing, household items, and food and gas vouchers.

The Midlands Deanery collected items for 10 families living in an apartment complex owned by a Catholic. Two thousand fliers were distributed to area parishioners requesting items for donation.

“The owner contacted us and asked us what we could do,” said Mary Gohean, coordinator for the Midlands Deanery. “There was a classroom in the apartment and the families were able to come through and shop for things they needed from the parishioner donations. Everything from household items, laundry detergent, clothes, anything you can imagine was available for them.”

Two Men and a Truck, a moving company, donated its services to move larger items into the apartments.

Staff in deanery offices have found that many evacuees initially planned to return to their home state once their area was reopened, but for some that has changed.

“Some folks have gone back to check on their property and have since returned,” Grillo said. “They are coming to terms with the fact that they truly had nothing to go home to. They have literally lost everything.”

To help evacuees in the Piedmont Deanery with the emotional distress that comes with tragedy, Franciscan Sister Margie Hosch implemented mental health services.

“The city of Greenville turned the Palmetto Expo Center into a shelter for the evacuees,” Franciscan Sister Davida Loosbrock said. “Sister Margie would go down there from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. and just listen to people who needed someone to talk to. I don’t know how she did it. She worked long hours counseling people who couldn’t sleep and needed a listening ear.”

Sister Davida said that things have settled down a bit in the Piedmont Deanery, but that assistance money is still going out steadily.

“Mary Carr (client advocate) has been very busy with calls,” she said. “We have been able to give some of the packets of toiletries donated by Bi-Lo (grocery stores) to the people in our area. The support from the county of Greenville has been overwhelming.”

“There is no telling when we will close out the last case on this disaster,” Bullard said. “We didn’t close out the final case on Hurricane Floyd until four years after the storm. We will just continue taking each case one day at a time until everyone is taken care of.”