Catholic Charities continues to aid Hurricane Katrina victims

FLORENCE — The one year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s devastating hit on the Gulf Coast is less than a month away, on Aug. 29. Meanwhile, those who live on or near the coast in the Southeast are focused on daily reports of development in the tropics and wondering if they are prepared for hurricane season 2006.

In the midst of this, it may be easy to forget that some victims of Katrina’s wrath are still living in South Carolina, and that their needs have not ended even 12 months after the storm drove them from their homes.

Catholic Charities in the Pee Dee area of the Diocese of Charleston is still helping 20 families who came to South Carolina after being evacuated after Katrina, said Diane Bullard, that region’s coordinator for Catholic Charities.

During an interview with The Miscellany she said most of the evacuees who settled in the area, which includes Florence and the Grand Strand, were from New Orleans, but a few also came from the coast of Mississippi.

Evacuees in the Pee Dee who decided to stay mostly live in Florence, but a few have made their homes in Loris, Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach, said Daryl Kangarloo, a certified case manager who handles client advocate work with the evacuees.

“The fact that the anniversary is coming up is going to be stressful for them,” Bullard said. “They sort of see this as a safe place, especially Florence. Some of them feel ‘hurricane-proof’ because Florence is just inland enough. But the anniversary coming up is just going to bring it all back.”

Kangarloo said in recent months, the needs of Katrina evacuees in the Pee Dee have changed from the immediate material needs of food, clothing and shelter ito more long-term needs, such as finding and maintaining a new home and job, and navigating the maze of insurance and other legal issues.

Lutheran Family Services of the Carolinas has contracted with FEMA to provide case management for Katrina evacuees in South Carolina, and Catholic Charities is working with them to provide case management in the Pee Dee.

“Some people are beginning to deal with the long-term psychological effects of losing loved ones or losing homes,” Kangarloo said. She said Catholic Charities works to connect evacuees with counselors and therapists in their area so they can get needed help.

“Disaster work is not short term,” Kangarloo said. “It’s a very, very long term situation, and a person goes through the situation on their own time line. With Katrina, there were needs we don’t even think of happening. We had people who didn’t have time to put their teeth in or their eyeglasses on before they left. We’ve been helping with everyday parts of life that the rest of us take for granted. Now comes the really hard work of entering a new community and rebuilding a life.”

“We ask ourselves all the time how these people are able to overcome what happened to them in Katrina,” Bullard said. “If this had happened to us, we can’t even imagine how we ourselves would pick up the pieces.”

Catholic Charities has been one of the major players in restoration and relief for the storm-ravaged Gulf Coast, especially in New Orleans.

Since Katrina hit in late August 2005, Catholic Charities in the U.S. has collected more than $152 million in donations. The Diocese of Charleston itself collected more than $1 million.

As of March 2006, it was estimated that Catholic Charities in the U.S.  had provided help of some sort to 300,000 Katrina victims.

In South Carolina, Catholic Charities is working directly with an estimated 100 evacuees who have settled around the state, said Deacon Edward Peitler, statewide director for Catholic Charities.

Bullard said individuals, churches and businesses in the Pee Dee area have opened their hearts, doors and pockets to evacuees with a wide range of needs.

She said Blackwater Gallery, an art gallery in the Horry County city of Conway, donated art supplies to a man from New Orleans who had run a business selling his paintings over the internet.

The gallery received one of the Pee Dee Catholic Charities ‘Gift from the Heart’ awards. Other awards went to Alabama Theater, FaFaDo Salon, Myrtle Beach Family Medicine, Lens Crafters of Myrtle Beach, CVS Pharmacy of Myrtle Beach, Our Lady Star of the Sea Church in North Myrtle Beach, St. Anthony Church in Florence, students of St. Andrew School in Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce, Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce, Little River Medical Center, South Carolina Employment and Security Commission of Conway, and the North Myrtle Beach Intermediate School.

Bullard said the awards were given to businesses and church groups who demonstrated outstanding service to Katrina victims.

Those who would like to help victims of Hurricane Katrina can donate directly to Catholic Charities efforts in South Carolina, or can find out about the ongoing work being done in Lousiana and Mississippi.

“Catholic Charities USA still has an enormous program going on in the impacted area, and people are still needed to volunteer time and contribute financially to that effort as well,” Bullard said.

Bettye Reynolds, 66, lost everything she owned when the oceanfront apartment building she lived in in Biloxi, Miss., was completely destroyed. Reynolds said she was staying with her daughter, Donna Eckert, in Conway when the storm hit.  Realizing she had lost her home and possessions, Reynolds sought help the week after the storm and was connected with Bullard and Kangarloo.

She said they have since helped her with everything from money and vouchers for gasoline to finding clothing and furniture. Reynolds, who suffers from severe back problems, especially treasures a comfortable bed she said they helped her to find. The bed is now set up in the dining room of her daughter’s home, where Reynolds will live until she can find a permanent home in the Conway area.

Reynolds said this was the first time she had ever been in touch with anyone from a Catholic charity, and she is grateful for the help she received.

“The people at Catholic Charities have been so very special to me — they try to help you when you’re down and you really need someone,” she said.

“I had gotten so depressed because I’m 66 and I have to start all over again. And these wonderful people have been so good to me. I can’t say enough about them.”