Catholic groups respond in Hurricane Isaac recovery

Storm damage from Hurricane Isaac in Mobile, Ala.
Photo by Catholic News Agency

New Orleans, La. (CNA) — As Gulf Coast residents continue the recovery process following Hurricane Isaac, Catholic groups throughout the South have begun organizing disaster relief services for victims.

“These people who have been affected and certainly those who have lost so much need our prayerful support,”  Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond of New Orleans said at a Sept. 4 press conference.

In order to convey the archdiocese’s prayers and commitment to providing assistance for victims,  Archbishop Aymond visited badly damaged areas Aug. 31 to Sept. 1.

Hurricane Isaac, which made landfall Aug. 28, dropped more that 15 inches of rain, flooded parts of  Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama and has killed at least seven people in the U.S.

Immediately following the hurricane, Catholic Charities of New Orleans and the archdiocese-run Second Harvest food bank were on site offering food and water to victims. Since then, Catholic Charities has begun offering counseling and spiritual support in the form of prayer.

Archbishop Aymond has called on young adults and high school students throughout the archdiocese to volunteer in areas where help is most needed the most this upcoming weekend.

Young people, he said, should come together “not only not only to offer their prayers, but to offer their hands and their hearts” for hurricane victims.

As the New Orleans Saints host the Washington Redskins Sept. 9, attendees will be able to donate non-perishable food items to restock Second Harvest, the archbishop announced.

“We ask anyone who is coming to the game to bring a can of food,” he said.

Catholic Social Services of Mobile has been working to determine “how best our agency can respond to this particular disaster,” said John Wilson, who heads disaster preparation and response efforts for the Archdiocese of Mobile.

As chairperson of the Mobile County Volunteering Organizations Active in Disasters, Wilson has also been coordinating the services of various faith-based, non-profit and volunteer organizations “to ensure no duplication of relief efforts.”

“We’re trying to assess who can effectively do what in response to specific clients,” Wilson said.

One of the challenges facing the relief efforts will be the smaller amount of federal resources than was available in 2005 following Hurricane Katrina.

“Some of the challenges tend to be financial, to be sure,” Wilson said. “But more than that it’s just trying to make sure that we’re allocating and not duplicating our efforts with those families and individuals that have been impacted by the storm.”

The Mobile archdiocese has called for a second collection at the upcoming Sunday Masses to benefit local hurricane victims.

Wilson said there is “always a positive feeling” in knowing that Catholic Social Services “is able to respond in a meaningful way” to help storm victims, either by providing direct assistance or arranging for the necessary services to be provided.

Nancy Loftus, a Catholic Charities case manager for the Diocese of Biloxi, said that although her organization is “light years ahead of where we were for Katrina,” Isaac has presented them with a new set of challenges.

“We know that we are not going to receive the resources we received during Katrina,” she said. At the same time, Loftus is thankful the number of victims is lower this time around.

Catholic Charities of Biloxi is essentially doing the same work it normally would, but is now operating in “disaster mode” by providing abbreviated case management in order to help a larger number of people.

Even though the “number of calls” to their office have increased from their normal flow, the charity has been able to keep up “primarily because all these wonderful people that have come down to help.”

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