Fort Myers | In astounding acts of generosity, the faithful of the Diocese of Venice responded with fervor to an emergency appeal for supplies for the victims of Hurricane Michael as items piled high at four drop-off points. Thankfully, these donations are already helping people in the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee thanks to the assistance of staff from Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice Inc.
“I saw the images of the devastation and I had to do something,” said Grace Collier of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Fort Myers as she brought cases of water, toilet paper, diapers and snack food to Our Lady of Light Parish in Fort Myers, one of four drop-off points. “My prayers are with everyone who was impacted by the storm and I hope these few items will help someone. I want to do more, but at 82, I don’t get around so well anymore.”
Patrick Collins of St. Joseph Parish in Bradenton brought a car full of items to Ss. Peter and Paul the Apostles Parish in Bradenton, noting that he lived through Hurricane Andrew, which in 1992 destroyed his home in Homestead, and remembered the generosity of so many strangers who donated items to help his family survive. “I have to pay it forward. Those people are hurting.”
Donations of water, food, cleaning supplies, diapers, pet food and much more started arriving at the four drop-off sites early Oct. 15 and continued through Oct. 18. Drop-off locations included Epiphany Cathedral in Venice; the Catholic Charities Judy Sullivan Family Resource Center in Naples; as well as Ss. Peter and Paul the Apostles Parish in Bradenton; and Our Lady of Light Parish in Fort Myers.
Bishop Frank J. Dewane sent a letter to the priests about the appeal, noting that this was being done in response to a call for supplies directly from the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee Bishop William Wack, Holy Cross Fathers. In the letter, Bishop Dewane noted that the destruction was reminiscent of past hurricanes to strike the Diocese of Venice, such as Irma in 2017 and Charley in 2004.
Staff and volunteers, including many members of the Knights of Columbus, assisted in unloading vehicles, sorting donated goods, and even assisted loading the Catholic Charities truck which came to take the items away.
Yuri Kaplun, a Disaster Response Coordinator for Catholic Charities in Venice, took on the task of picking up the donated items and bringing them to the Florida Panhandle. He was there just four days after the hurricane struck with an initial donation of 5,000 family meals from the Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Disaster Response Program.
“I am impressed by how much was donated,” Kaplun said. “The donations were so great that a second truck will make a delivery in early November. I was there a few days after the storm, making an initial drop-off of supplies from Catholic Charities and know firsthand the need for supplies will be going on for a long time.”
Kaplun dropped off the newly donated supplies to St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Quincy, St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Blountstown, and St. Anne Parish in Marianna, each small rural communities west of Tallahassee with massive amounts of damage. The Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee reports that many of the parish buildings and schools have damage of some sort, while eight had severe damage.
In addition to the donated items, Kaplun also brought a gas-powered forklift to help unload trucks much faster. He has been assigned to remain in the Panhandle for the next two weeks to assist Catholic Charities of Northwest Florida in their disaster response efforts. (For a link to an in-depth interview with Kaplun, visit https://chirb.it/7FrNEc.)
Philomena A. Pereira, Catholic Charities CEO, thanked the generous donors and the host drop-off site teams for their support in this outreach. “Life is difficult for those living in the affected area of Hurricane Michael,” she said. “Together, we work to help our brothers and sisters in need in northwest Florida. We will make a difference and restore hope. Thank you to all for your generosity, help and prayers.”
Meanwhile, all three Catholic high school in the Diocese are raising money for their counterparts. Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers and St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples each took advantage of homecoming week to raise money. Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota is also raising money and will include that effort in its homecoming efforts in late October. In fact, St. John Neumann will actually split their money between a Catholic school in North Carolina impacted by Hurricane Florence as well as one in the Panhandle.
Neumann Principal Sister Patricia Roche, Salesians of St. John Bosco, said that the idea to help the school in North Carolina came about long before Hurricane Michael. The homecoming week idea is an annual tradition to collect change for a worthy cause. Following Hurricane Irma, Neumann received donations from Catholic schools across the country, including one donation which was used to replace the statue of Mary in the courtyard. “It is our turn to give back,” she said.
Bishop Verot was also blessed with support (financial and otherwise) from Catholic schools across the county. The students came forward seeking a way to extend the grace they received last year to those in need now. A small group of students visited St. Joseph Catholic School in Panama City to bring supplies and learn what was needed going forward. The group is producing a short video to present to the school community to enhance fundraising efforts.
Other Diocesan schools are also in the process of planning different drives to send either money or supplies to the Catholic schools in the Panhandle.
At this time, no more donations of goods are being accepted at the drop-off sites. However, if you would like to make a financial contribution, you may write to: Diocese of Venice, 1000 Pinebrook Road, Venice, FL 34285. Please make checks payable c/o Hurricane Michael Relief.