After tornadoes and severe storms rife with hail ravaged parts of Kentucky and Indiana in February and March of this year, donations from around the Archdiocese of Louisville poured into Catholic Charities of Louisville.
The total donated to date is more than $276,000.
Cathy Palmer-Ball, who works for Catholic Charities, is putting those contributions to use by working directly with people whose homes and livelihoods were damaged by the storms.
The focus of her work, which is funded by a part-time salary from Catholic Charities and a grant from Catholic Charities USA, is two-fold. She’s a case-manager, which means she works with people affected by misfortune, helping them to navigate the muddy waters that surround insurance and FEMA claims and the general recovery work. Sometimes it means she holds their hands, quite literally, or drives them to the grocery store.
The other part of her job involves distributing financial assistance to those who are still in need after insurance and FEMA have paid claims. Catholic Charities helps to cover what FEMA and insurance do not.
“We help to fill the gap. We are providing money for the unmet needs,” said Palmer-Ball.
Unmet needs vary widely from case to case. Catholic Charities has handled 10 cases so far and distributed about $21,000.
One case that’s been completed involved Jason Webster, a man who has been building his own house during the last three years. He said he was devastated by the storms that hit his nearly completed ranch-style home. The roof was irreparably damaged by hail, and the building wasn’t insured.
“I was paying for it (the construction of his home) out of pocket,” he said, noting that he was budgeted too tightly to afford insurance and had planned to insure the house after it was finished. Catholic Charities worked with him and ultimately paid to replace his roof.
“I never got anything from anyone in my entire life. I’ve always worked and paid for things the hard way,” he said. “It’s neat that there are people out there who do help.”
Another case involved Donna and Mark Mullins, a couple who owned four mobile homes that they leased to tenants on a plot of land in Trimble County, Ky.
Catholic Charities assisted two of the tenants and has helped the Mullins as they try to recreate their mobile home park.
“We were devastated, because we had been working on this for 10 years,” Donna Mullins explained during a telephone interview last week. “We had just got it up and running a little more than a year ago. March 2 came and blew us out of the water.”
Everything had to be replaced — the trailers, the electrical service, the pedestals that deliver the electricity — and the land, which had been churned up by the tornado, had to be graded and prepared again, she said.
The Mullins couldn’t be helped by FEMA, because that program doesn’t help businesses. And they hadn’t insured the mobile home park.
“We knew we needed insurance, but we delayed it,” Mullins said, noting that they’d gone into debt creating the park. “We thought we’d wait just a little longer to get something paid off and then we’d get it (insurance). We learned a life lesson.”
Catholic Charities paid to have the electrical service installed at the park. Now the Mullins are preparing the land and looking for used trailers, which they plan to refurbish.
The experience, Mullins said, “has changed our perspective on everything.”
“It’s been good for us,” she said. “It’s taught us humility. Catholic Charities has helped us wonderfully.”
Palmer-Ball said the people Catholic Charities has helped were hesitant about receiving the assistance.
“They don’t want to take,” she said. “They want to do it themselves. I’ve had to convince them this money was donated for tornado relief.”
One woman with whom Palmer-Ball is working hasn’t received much assistance yet — just a gift card to Walmart to help her buy groceries and medicine. But Palmer-Ball has tried to help her navigate the claims process and has offered a lot of hand-holding.
Palmer-Ball drove about an hour to the woman’s home in rural Trimble County on July 13. The 93-year-old, who didn’t want her name published, is still waiting to hear from her insurance company since a tornado hit her farm on March 2. The 150-acre farm has been in her family since 1862, and until the storm, she’d made a living off its pastures, leasing them to cattle farmers. But the tornado destroyed her fences — which keep the cattle from wandering — and tore down two of her three barns.
The twister, which she watched as it barreled across a field toward her home, ripped siding and roofing off of her house. The roof is leaking and still hasn’t been repaired or replaced.
When Palmer-Ball visited her on July 13, the woman explained that her insurance company had paid a claim for her two barns — a total of $8,000 — but hasn’t done anything about her house. She’s worried, she told Palmer-Ball, about the ceiling of her living room, which is drooping downward where the roof above is leaking.
The woman said she’s been trying to reach the insurance company, but no one returns her calls. She said she called earlier that week and was told to call back July 13.
Palmer-Ball called the insurance company on the woman’s behalf, but was told to call back later. The person she needed to reach was on vacation, she was told.
“To think this happened four months ago,” the elderly woman said during an interview following that phone call to the insurance company. “I don’t have money coming in. I don’t know how I can pay my bills.”
Palmer-Ball said she plans to continue visiting and helping her until the charity can do something more to help.
Catholic Charities is still taking requests for help from those affected by the Feb. 28 and March 2 storms. Those who need help may call 502-637-9786.
By Marnie McAllister, Record Assistant Editor