June 20, 2008

Parishes, agencies help flood victims across the archdiocese

Debris lines a street in front of a flood-damaged home on June 12 in Columbus. Approximately 2,500 homes in the city were damaged by floods on June 6-7. Members of St. Bartholomew Parish in Columbus responded quickly to give aid to fellow parishioners and others affected by the flood. (Photo by David Siler)

Debris lines a street in front of a flood-damaged home on June 12 in Columbus. Approximately 2,500 homes in the city were damaged by floods on June 6-7. Members of St. Bartholomew Parish in Columbus responded quickly to give aid to fellow parishioners and others affected by the flood. (Photo by David Siler)

By Sean Gallagher

Parishes across central and southern Indiana and archdiocesan agencies continue to respond to the ongoing needs of thousands of households affected by the flood that ravaged many communities on June 6-7.

Although Hoosiers had not dealt with a flood like this one in a century, members of two archdiocesan parishes in the affected area were ready to respond because of their experience in giving aid to communities along the Gulf Coast affected by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Other parishes and archdiocesan agencies have also been active in reaching out to their fellow Catholics and others affected by the floods. (How can I help?)


Following Hurricane Katrina, members of St. Bartholomew Parish in Columbus established St. Clare Recovery, a program designed to coordinate thousands of volunteers from around the country to help families in Waveland, Miss., rebuild their lives.

In the immediate wake of the disaster in their own city, St. Bartholomew parishioners assessed and responded to the needs of their fellow Catholics.

Kathy Davis-Shanks, the parish’s director of religious education, initially coordinated the parish’s disaster response. She said at least 50 households in the parish have received aid.

That included getting water out of houses, and removing furniture, other household items, flooring and drywall damaged by water infiltration.

Doug Heiner, a member of St. Bartholomew Parish, saw the first floor of his family home flooded and his two family cars likely totaled by flood damage.

Within a day or two after the flood, members of the parish were there to help.

“We didn’t have to call anybody,” said Heiner through tears of gratitude. “They just showed up. These are families that are … just doing it for no other reason than to help.”

“The great tragedy you see is the lives devastated,” Davis-Shanks said. “But through that, [you see] the beauty of people stepping up and trying to make a difference and help.”

David Siler, archdiocesan executive director of Catholic Charities and Family Ministries, said approximately 2,500 homes were severely damaged in Columbus.

St. Bartholomew Parish will continue to provide initial aid in the weeks to come to affected parishioners and non-parishioners. Parishioners also plan to help families rebuild.

Johnson County

From Greenwood in the north to Edinburgh in the south, families across Johnson County were severely affected by the flooding earlier this month.

Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish’s Disaster Response Committee, which was established in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, went into action on the evening of June 7.

Several crews of parishioners were very experienced in the specific tasks and precautions needed in responding to a flood disaster.

“It’s been a blessing because we’ve been at the forefront,” said Valerie Sperka, the committee’s chairperson. “[We] have some of the training to know what to do.”

But what impressed her as much as anything was the love shown by those who couldn’t provide skilled labor, but helped nonetheless.

“The people weren’t able to be physically in these homes helping, but they had a cart and were delivering water,” Sperka said. “A gentleman went out and bought, at his own expense, hamburgers and French fries and Cokes … to distribute to people who were working. That was very encouraging and hope-filled.”

Our Lady of the Greenwood parishioners also collaborated with the American Red Cross and the United Way of Franklin County in a southwestern Greenwood neighborhood to assess needs, help residents fill out damage report forms, and show them where they could get supplies and how they could clean their houses.

The parish expects to continue to be involved in providing initial aid and support and to help families with rebuilding.


St. Martin of Tours Parish in Martinsville may not have the experience of St. Bartholomew and Our Lady of the Greenwood parishes, but help is on the way to the community where 1,500 homes have been damaged.

Father John Hall, pastor of St. Martin of Tours, and other parishioners have provided clothing and gift cards to those affected by the floods.

He also said he has received offers of volunteer aid from across the archdiocese and from a youth group in Ohio.

Jane Crady, who helped lead St. Clare Recovery, will be coordinating volunteers who come to Martinsville.

According to Siler, mental and spiritual counseling and case management aid will be provided to flood victims in Martinsville by Catholic Charities Indianapolis.

Like Sperka, Father Hall has been impressed by the ways that people who have lost much in the flooding are still trying to help others.

“People who are struggling are coming in to help their sisters and brothers,” he said. “We can walk together. And God is having pity on us as we walk together on this journey.”

Terre Haute

Siler said more than 2,500 homes in and around Terre Haute sustained flood damage.

But Catholic Charities Terre Haute has been providing for decades the kind of aid that people affected need right now.

“So much of what we do is focused on … food, clothing and shelter,” said John Etling, agency director of Catholic Charities Terre Haute. “It’s almost like we’re already set up for this.”

Etling estimates that this basic aid will be needed by many in the Terre Haute area for a couple of months.

And although the agencies he leads are not used to guiding a rebuilding process, he is determined to help.

“From a deanery standpoint, we’ve got to figure out a way to help people rebuild,” Etling said. “And if that means setting up crews or working with a Habitat [for Humanity] group, … we’ve got to band together.” †

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