People in risk management often refer to natural disasters as “an act of God.”
Bishop W. Shawn McKnight, the clergy and people of this diocese are determined to make the Catholic response to recent tornadoes and flooding an even greater revelation of the Creator at work.
“God gives us everything we need as individuals, as parishes and as the Diocese of Jefferson City to project His light into the darkness,” said Bishop McKnight. “We are being sent to places buffeted by winds and floodwaters, to preach the Good News with our hands and our feet, our attitudes and our pocketbooks.”
Shortly before midnight on May 22, the sky made a gyrating fist and pounded its way through Eldon, Jefferson City and points between with jarring ferocity.
An EF-3 tornado shredded roofs, trees and utility poles in Jefferson City’s Capital Avenue Historical District and devastated homes and businesses near Lincoln University and on both sides of the U.S. 54-Ellis Boulevard Interchange.
In Eldon, the tornado damaged the business district and several neighborhoods.
Although destruction in the affected areas was intense and an estimated 20 people sought treatment for injuries, no one died.
“We are grateful that lives were spared, and for the outpouring of support from around the country,” Bishop McKnight said in a statement released the following day.
This was part of a line of storms that brought devastation to the Midwest, from Texas through Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois.
Separate tornadoes struck Hickory and Randolph counties in the Jefferson City diocese, and Golden City in southwestern Missouri, where three people died.
Portions of the Missouri River and its tributaries were also reaching near-record levels, breaching levies and flooding farms, homes and businesses in an area spanning 25 counties.
Bishop McKnight asked for continued prayers “for those who have suffered from this natural disaster, and also for those who are coming to their assistance.”
He was pleased at the eagerness local Catholics have shown to give generously and join forces with other religious groups and local organizations to help where it’s needed most.
Citing strength in unity, he called on Catholic parishes throughout the diocese to continue serving as centers of charity and mercy in their communities.
People wishing to volunteer should call 211 to reach the United Way, which is serving as the central clearinghouse to match immediate needs with resources.
Helias Catholic High School and the Jefferson City parishes are planning a volunteer day to help with tornado and flood clean-up.
Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri (CCCNMO), an agency of the Jefferson City diocese, is working with other agencies to ensure that a coordinated and integrated network of support is provided to those affected.
CCCNMO is part of the network of agencies affiliated with Catholic Charities USA.
As it did in response to the 2017 floods, Catholic Charities is putting into place a process to assist those who have a very fragile safety net: people without insurance, who are not homeowners, on limited income, with disabilities, or whose livelihood has been impacted by the natural disaster.
Anyone impacted by the floods or tornadoes are also being encouraged to call 211 to register for assistance.
Monetary donations are being accepted to the Catholic Charities’ Disaster Relief Fund to help with these efforts. Every dollar will be used for direct assistance to people affected by the flooding and tornadoes.
Catholic Charities works with other early-response agencies after a disaster to help provide the emergency items people need.
This week, CCCNMO and the St. Peter parish conference of the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Jefferson City were preparing to help staff Multi-Agency Resource Centers (MARCs), where all the entities that provide services make themselves available in one place, on May 30 and 31 in Jefferson City and June 1 in Eldon.
Catholic Charities also specializes in long-term case management, staying in contact with people affected by disasters and helping them rebuild their lives, one step at a time.
“It’s a very in-depth process where we don’t just see them once and are done,” said Alissa Marlow, CCCNMO’s director of community services. “This could be a two-year process for some households as we walk that road of recovery with them.”
For instance, the May 22 tornado went through part of Jefferson City that has a high concentration of residents with low to moderate incomes.
“So their needs might be new places to live, rent deposits, utility assistance, furniture and looking for a new job, if now they have to move and can’t get to their place employment because of transportation,” said Mrs. Marlow.
“We take the long-term approach,” said CCCNMO Executive Director Dan Lester. “It’s not always as visible as some of the other aspects of disaster recovery, but it is very important.”
He noted that CCCNMO provided long-term, disaster case management in 2017 to residents of Gasconade, Osage, Crawford, Maries, Phelps and Pulaski counties in the Jefferson City diocese, where flooding caused major disruption of people’s lives.
“The program involves a partnership between a case manager and a disaster survivor to develop and carry out the survivor’s long-term recovery plan,” he said.
“This partnership gives the survivor a single point of contact to help develop an assessment of verified disaster-caused unmet needs, a plan that outlines the steps necessary to achieve recovery, and identification of available resources.”
The case manager monitors the survivor’s progress toward goals and provides client advocacy when necessary.
Long-term unmet needs may include financial, physical, emotional or spiritual well-being, as well as referrals for materials and/or manpower to provide support to survivors in their recovery.
“The case manager helps households return to a state of independence,” said Mr. Lester. “Individuals who may have suffered losses not covered by state or local government programs, as well as those whose homes were damaged by the storm, may benefit from the case-management services.”
These services become available after the initial damage is assessed and immediate needs are met.
Mr. Lester noted that Catholic Charities continues to monitor severe weather throughout the diocese.
The response to flooding can’t happen until the water has receded and damage assessments are completed, which could take weeks.
“We know that our work is just beginning,” he said. “Charities is ready to respond when the time is right and will continue to work with our parishes and other partners in recovery throughout the entirety of the diocese.”
“Now is the time”
Brad Copeland, the diocese’s director of buildings and properties, was on the road the morning after the storms, surveying the condition of churches, schools and other properties.
“We were extremely lucky,” he said. “We didn’t have any damage on our own buildings in this area.”
Having sought out high vantage points, he was shocked at the devastation he saw in places.
“It almost looks like a war zone in certain areas,” he said.
Archbishop Robert Carlson of St. Louis offered prayers and support on behalf of the St. Louis archdiocese.
“I am saddened by the reports of lives lost during (the) storms and the pictures of devastation we are seeing in parts of our state including our state capital,” he stated. “The Archdiocese of St. Louis is in contact with Bishop W. Shawn McKnight’s office in Jefferson City and is ready to support in any way we can.
“Let us pray and ask for the Lord’s comfort for all those impacted by these storms and for the responders who are a beacon of hope in this time of need,” he said.
Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, expressed grief over the lives lost and damage threatened by the tornadoes and storms, and offered prayers for recovery.
“Now is the time to offer assistance to those facing this great loss,” he stated. “We are grateful that Catholic Charities and other organizations are in place, working to provide for emergency needs and to help rebuild.”
Governor Mike Parson praised all of the emergency personnel who helped in the disasters’ immediate aftermath.
“Across the state, Missouri’s first responders once again responded quickly and with strong coordination as much of the state dealt with extremely dangerous conditions that left people injured, trapped in homes, and tragically led to the death of three people. I want our responders and all the neighbors who acted selflessly to help their neighbors to know how much their heroic efforts are appreciated by all Missourians.”