After a disaster strikes, some charities sweep in to provide emergency aid to victims. Others help to clear debris. Months later, when the initial responders have gone, Catholic Charities of Louisville is there to help families rebuild their lives.
That’s what Cathy Palmer-Ball, a case manager for Catholic Charities, has been doing since late winter, when tornadoes and severe storms struck the region. She’s been finding ways to use the nearly $300,000 in donations made to Catholic Charities to help families rebuild their homes and replace appliances lost to the storms.
“We’re with the clients who’ve been affected by these disasters for the long haul,” said Palmer-Ball during a recent interview.
It’s work Catholic Charities learned to do only recently, and it’s a ministry Catholic Charities leaders say they plan to expand.
Last fall, Catholic Charities USA trained Palmer-Ball and another local staffer, Melanie Bishop, to respond to disasters in the long-term recovery phase. Specifically, Catholic Charities helps families whose expenses from storm damage weren’t met by insurance and Federal Emergency Management Agency
Steve Bogus, executive director of Catholic Charities of Louisville, said the agency decided to consider this kind of work after an unusual storm bearing hurricane-force winds and an ice storm struck the region within a matter of months in September 2008 and January 2009. Those storms damaged homes around the area and left nearly a million people without power for days, some for more than a week.
“We’ve gotten more interested in this, because it has gotten more immediate to our area,” Bogus said during an interview Aug. 2. “We need to be responsive” when disasters hit the Archdiocese of Louisville, he said. He also cited as an example episodes of flooding that have occurred in recent years.
Since the Feb. 28 and March 2 storms, Catholic Charities of Louisville has received $299,565 in donations. So far, about $35,000 has been disbursed to help about 10 families or individuals in Hardin and Trimble counties.
Bogus said some people are surprised so little has been disbursed, but he said recovery is long-term work, and the money will eventually be used.
“The way the process works, we anticipate working with people for the next year or more,” Bogus said, noting that the storms occurred less than six months ago. “We’ve been told two years is the minimum, because it can even go beyond that.”
Some other parts of Kentucky — particularly the Dioceses of Lexington and Covington — experienced more widespread damage than the Archdiocese of Louisville. It’s likely that donations made here will be shared with Catholic Charities agencies in those dioceses, said Bart Weigle, director of development for Catholic Charities of Louisville.
Annie Ormsbee, who works in disaster relief for Catholic Charities of Lexington, said the Lexington agency has nearly exhausted its donations. It has aided people in five counties hit by the storms and has about 80 applications on file. Donations to the agency for storm relief totaled nearly $200,000 as of Aug. 2. About $160,000 has been pledged to families in need of help.
“We are about to pledge out all the money our diocese has received,” said Ormsbee. She said the money is expected to run out within the next few weeks.
“Once we use our resources, we’ll start forwarding our applications on” to other Catholic Charities in the state, she added. “It’s great that people in our diocese can still be helped and resources can be shared” among dioceses.
Weigel said the Catholic Charities agencies in Kentucky have standardized their applications and other paperwork used to screen clients who request assistance.
“It’s the same paperwork and info (used here) so we can be sure the needy and needs have been properly vetted,” he said. “We can then forward the money rather than having to vet it ourselves.”
Bogus said Catholic Charities plans to expand its disaster relief work beginning next year by getting parishes involved in the work. The purpose would be two-fold.
He envisions disaster relief committees being established at parishes. These committees would form a plan in the case of a disaster to determine the needs of the parish and parish families. They could forward the information to Catholic Charities, which could begin providing the appropriate assistance.
In addition, a parish that isn’t affected by a disaster could help to organize parish volunteers who want to provide assistance to others who have been.
“It’s important to have people who are knowledgeable and have a plan in mind when there’s a disaster,” said Bogus. “One of the biggest challenges when a disaster strikes is preventing a second disaster when everyone wants to respond. Everyone needs to have a plan so (their response) can be purposeful.”
Catholic Charities also will be forming plans to accept donations at times of disasters. When the tornadoes hit last winter, Weigel said some kind-hearted people wanted to donate tractor-trailers full of furniture and diapers a week after the storms. But Catholic Charities wasn’t prepared to receive the donations, store them or distribute them well, Weigel added.
“There are lots of logistical questions,” he said. “It’s one of these things you’re really grateful for, but what do you do with it?”
By Marnie McAllister, Record Assistant Editor