Judy Sullivan Family Resource Center Program Director Allegra Belliard directs member of the Knights of Columbus from St. Agnes Parish where to place donated items for Hurricane Michael Relief on Oct. 16, 2018 in Naples. (BOB REDDY | FC)

Catholic Charities ready for hurricanes

Venice  |  With the start of the 2019 Atlantic Hurricane Season on June 1, the faithful of the Diocese of Venice should keep a wary eye on the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico for violently spinning clusters of storms that could leave havoc in their wake.

Should a storm begin, having a family disaster plan is crucial and must include what supplies will be needed to survive without help for up to seven days, or even if and when to evacuate.

As ominous as such planning seems, the Diocese of Venice knows these storms well. Names such as Donna (1960), Charley (2004), and most recently Irma (2017), are potent reminders of what devastation and sorrow a hurricane has brought ashore with wind and rain and will certainly do so again in the future.

No one knows when the next storm will strike, but Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice Inc., is uniquely prepared to respond.

The Disaster Response Team of Catholic Charities would send crews to the epicenter of the disaster and then coordinate to set up relief centers – called PODs, which stands for Points-Of-Distribution – where the need is greatest, explained Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Chief Operating Officer Sharon Aragona. 

These centers – often located at parishes or next to Catholic Charities offices – will be sites where water, clothing, food and other disaster relief assistance can be distributed. Some emergency supplies are already in storage, but these sites will also be where outside help can be centered.

Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Venice has an extensive history in preparing for and executing short and long-term recovery efforts. Following Hurricane Irma in 2017, some 15 POD sites were activated through the most heavily impacted areas of the Diocese.

At these sites, state and federal responders, including the National Guard, delivered tractor trailer loads of essential supplies for as long as they were needed. Additional supplies that helped in the short and long-term recovery also arrived from across the country.

The basics of food and water were available at each site, some from donations of individuals, families, parishes, non-profit groups and even corporations. The majority of what was distributed was in the form of FEMA Disaster Relief supplies, which included cases of bottled water and boxes of meals-ready-to-eat. Some 75,000 people were assisted in just the first two weeks.

Catholic Charities also assisted in the long-term recovery following the storm. This included case management and support for getting people back into their homes. This was true even if a family didn’t have serious damage from the storm, many had time off from work that they really could not afford. Still others had damage they cannot afford to take care of or they needed to relocate. A combination of financial support and other assistance helped many families endure. 

To this day Catholic Charities is offering free mental health counseling services for adults, children and families who lived in Florida during Hurricane Irma. Counselors can help resolve a variety of issues such as stress, anger, anxiety, relationship problems, trauma, depression, low self-esteem and grief. Mental health counseling services are available now at 10 locations.

To return the favor, in 2018, following Hurricane Michael, Catholic Charities teams were sent to assist in the Florida Panhandle and help set up PODs. In addition, the Diocese, at the behest of Bishop Frank J. Dewane, collected supplies for the needy which were delivered in the weeks following the storm. The response was so strong that several truck loads of items were sent to the panhandle as the recovery process continued.

The Catholic Charities response teams are so highly regarded that representatives were also sent to help following Superstorm Sandy in October 2012 and again in 2016 following Hurricane Matthew.

While Catholic Charities is prepared in case a storm strikes, all emergency managers and experts on the aftermath of disaster agree that planning ahead, and having the proper supplies will go a long way to ensuring one’s safety, and perhaps survival, for the next time a hurricane strikes.