In the best of times, Catholic Charities is a steady, selfless presence, helping wherever needed with assistance such as food pantries and housing assistance.[[In-content Ad]]
In the worst of times, the agency can be counted on for emergency assistance with immediate needs, such as food to fill hungry bellies, blankets to warm shivering bodies and advocacy to connect people with desperately needed services. But perhaps even more important, Catholic Charities provides the reassuring pledge to be there for the long haul.
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In the Trenton Diocese, since Hurricane Sandy slammed into the coastline, the expectation is that the long haul will be about three years said Joyce Campbell, associate executive director for external affairs.
Days after the storm, Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities, who was touring the affected regions of the Eastern seaboard, visited the distribution center operating out of Catholic Charities Emergency Services in Lakewood. There, he pledged the support of CCUSA in person and presented a $10,000 check, the first installment of an initial $50,000 grant to the agency.
That check will be added to donations from the community-at-large for disaster relief including $50,000 from the OceanFirst Foundation presented to Marlene Lao-Collins, executive director, Catholic Charities Nov. 19.
Right now, Campbell said, the response is still in the first stage, with the distribution center and a staff providing people impacted by the storms with “direction – letting them know where the disaster recovery (FEMA, etc.) crews are, helping them with food, household items like blankets, cleaning supplies and gift cards.”
In the near future, said Campbell, there will be financial assistance for those needing security deposits for temporary housing and counseling services in Monmouth County where the agency is reaching out especially to schools where children are grappling with the aftershocks of this major disaster.
The long-term phase, she said, will include disaster case management and mental health counseling on the level of that given to survivors of Katrina on the Gulf Coast and the families who lost loved ones in 9/11.
At the side of Trenton’s Catholic Charities, helping the caseworkers, counselors and volunteers steady the helm of so many tempest-tossed people, will be disaster response and emergency management teams from Catholic Charities USA.
Such teams are already on the ground in the Trenton Diocese, having arrived soon after the storms hit, assessing the situation and giving hands on assistance and insight.
The week of Nov. 12, they were on hand at listening sessions with Father Snyder, offering guidance and assurances.
Father Snyder said he’d come to get a sense of, “this new world” as he called it, created by Hurricane Sandy and the nor’easter that followed. He and the disaster response and emergency management specialists were checking in with 12 local agencies in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut.
In Lakewood, the team saw the bustling food pantry, selection of clothing and household goods and numerous outreach programs which make the stately building on Monmouth Avenue a busy place.
But now in the wake of the destruction caused by the storms, foot and vehicular traffic has increased dramatically as those impacted by the ruinous weather, cope with their losses, said program director Carmen Pagan, who noted that the caseload is already up by 50 percent or more because of the storms.
And, Pagan explained to Father Snyder and his crew, Catholic Charities Emergency Service volunteers and staff, most of whom were without electric for some or all of the past two weeks, made every effort to adapt the building to the growing and evolving needs of the stricken community.”
Perhaps most importantly, she told the team as they settled in a section of the lower level, the computer lab there has been upgraded by the Catholic Charities IT department so people can apply to FEMA over the internet and keep up with the latest developments in seeking assistance.
And the lower level itself, as she noted, is constantly replenished with contributions of non-perishable foods, sanitary products for adults, teens, tykes, especially diapers for distribution to meet the immediate needs of those affected by the storm. Pagan said there is still a real demand for blankets and towels that can keep people warm who have spent way too much time in the cold.
As she explained that the emphasis is already shifting from immediate relief to recovery – with people asking for cleaning supplies and tools – Father Snyder and his team assured Pagan that Catholic Charities USA will be there working beside them from beginning to end.
Answering the Call
The emergency specialists for CCUSA rotate in and out from around the country. Last week, the team with boots on the ground at the shore was comprised of Kimberly J. Burgo, senior director for disaster response and emergency management specialists Gabe Tishler, Tallahassee, Fla., and Ashley Moore, Oklahoma City.
In a session that lasted more than two hours, the trio listened to the local concerns, offered logistical insight gleaned from visits to affected areas including potential locations for distribution centers closer to the impact zone.
Burgo spoke of holding training classes as soon as possible so that caseworkers will be up to speed on the paperwork involved in helping clients prepare applications for grants and loans. More good news came from Father Snyder as he told the staff about the initial grant of $50,000 “to help with what is going on…I know this is not something you signed up for,” he told Pagan.
“I know it’s not in your job description. But I commend you and bless you for the way you stepped up to the plate,” Father Snyder said.
As time goes by, it will be possible for Catholic Charities in Trenton to put in requests for more help, including personnel, said Father Snyder as he handed Pagan a check for $10,000 as a “down payment.”
She clasped the check, broke into a wide smile and said: “It is good to have this in hand. We can do something with this really, really soon.”
Before Father Snyder and his team had arrived, Pagan spoke of the generosity of the local community, of the donations that had come in from area concerns including Lakewood’s Cogenerating Plant.
She also said how wonderful it was that the OceanFirst Foundation’s creation of a $500,000 Relief and Recovery Grant Program to assist nonprofits included Catholic Charities.
The OceanFirst Foundation was created in 1996 by OceanFirst Bank to provide grants to organizations that meet community needs within the bank’s market area of Ocean, Monmouth and Middlesex Counties. Since its establishment, the foundation has contributed in excess of $23 million to over 600 local charities.
At the presentation, Lao-Collins accepted the check from Ocean First, speaking of the good it will do. “This monetary donation enables us to provide gift cards to those displaced from their homes or still without power, food or basic supplies,” she said.
“It will mean the difference between being cold and hungry and being sheltered and fed.”