March 16, 2012

Catholic Charities, parishes plan for long-term tornado relief

A Catholic Charities Disaster Response team member receives a kiss from a young girl in Henryville on March 6. Catholic Charities officials are committed to assisting people in the tornado-ravaged area of southern Indiana for as long as needed. (Photo by David Siler)

A Catholic Charities Disaster Response team member receives a kiss from a young girl in Henryville on March 6. Catholic Charities officials are committed to assisting people in the tornado-ravaged area of southern Indiana for as long as needed. (Photo by David Siler) Click for a larger version.

By Sean Gallagher

In the immediate aftermath of the tornadoes that struck several communities across southern Indiana on March 2, people from across the state and nation donated material items, made financial contributions and came to offer a helping hand.

But according to pastors on the scene and Catholic Charities officials, help is going to be needed in the affected areas for two years or longer—well after the destruction and heartbreak left by the storms have disappeared from the headlines. (Learn more about how you can help here)

“The tough work begins in a few weeks, in a couple of months, in several months down the road,” said David Siler, executive director of the archdiocesan secretariat for Catholic Charities and Family Ministries. “The first responders will be gone. The publicity will diminish a great deal. And some people lose interest. So it’s hard to keep the momentum going. Let’s have the resolve to stay in this.”

Jane Crady, Catholic Charities’ coordinator of disaster preparedness and response for the archdiocese, said that the hard work of repairing or rebuilding homes and businesses will not begin for several weeks or months because it will take a long time to get debris cleared away.

As people wait to repair or rebuild, there is “in between” work that needs to be done, said Father Steven Schaftlein, pastor of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Henryville.

“[There] will probably be an interim period in which our main task will be helping families jump through the hoops—legal paperwork, emotional challenges and the filling of the spiritual void,” he said. “This will be more one-on-one ministry, and will require more of a listening ear than a helping hand. An understanding heart and a hopeful spirit will be our best tools.”

Some of that listening will happen at St. Francis Xavier Parish, where Crady said Catholic Charities volunteers have begun case management work with people affected by the tornadoes.

In this work, the volunteers help people through the process of working with government and other community agencies that offer aid.

Outreach has also occurred at St. John the Baptist Parish in Osgood, which is about five miles from the tornado-damaged town of Holton.

Father Shaun Whittington, the parish’s pastor, said he and a parishioner started their relief work by putting out a request for cleaning supplies on Facebook and on a cardboard sign next to an empty pickup truck on the parish grounds.

“Within about 20 minutes, people started dropping things off. And it snowballed from there,” said Father Whittington in a March 8 telephone interview with The Criterion. “We have seven trailer loads of essential supplies that are going to be delivered on March 9.”

Father Whittington said that he, his parishioners, members of the Knights of Columbus and other community organizations are now in the process of storing relief aid and sending it out on an as needed basis.

“What we’re trying to really focus on is getting the right thing to the right place at the right time,” Father Whittington said. “When you lose all your buildings, you don’t have a place to store stuff. So we’re really trying to switch from crisis management to an on-demand outreach.”

Crady has helped St. John the Baptist Parish and other parishes make the shift to long-term relief work.

Although the timeline for the work to be done stretches far into the future, she is not discouraged.

“I see little miracles every day,” Crady said. “The overwhelming response is heartwarming. We didn’t have to find any [initial] temporary housing for one person. The people opened their doors and brought their neighbors in.”

At the same time, Crady said that many of the people affected by the tornadoes will face difficult challenges in the months to come because nearly half of the homes or businesses damaged by the tornadoes were either uninsured or underinsured.

Archdiocesan Catholic Charities may focus its ministry in the months to come on those people in particular, Siler said.

“We’re going to look at the people who are most vulnerable,” he said. “And those typically are the poor or the elderly, the folks that were already struggling before this happened. We see that as our niche.”

They will be helping those people in part through the financial contributions that Catholic Charities has received. As of March 12, $125,141 in donations for tornado relief aid had been made directly to Catholic Charities.

All of this, plus the work of volunteers in the months to come, will help the Church in central and southern Indiana as it assists those people affected by the March 2 tornadoes for the long haul.

“We will be there until that last person is back in their house,” Crady said. “That’s just the way we do it.”

(For more coverage of the March 2 tornadoes that struck southern Indiana, to make financial contributions to the Church’s relief effort there or to volunteer to help, log on to or call 317-236-1500 or 800-382-9836, ext. 1500. You may also send a check addressed to “Catholic Charities Archdiocese of Indianapolis” with “tornado relief” written on the memo line, and mail it to Catholic Charities, Attention: Tornado Relief, 1400 N. Meridian St., Indianapolis, IN 46202.)

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