By Christine Bordelon
Hope. That’s what 50-plus St. Catherine of Siena Parish volunteers offered to those devastated by Hurricane Harvey as part of a pre-dawn caravan of six 18-wheelers with donated supplies to Texas Sept. 9.
“We are so glad to see you,” a Beaumont resident told volunteers as they arrived at the first Texas stop – a warehouse run by Catholic Charities of Greater Beaumont that served as a storage and distribution site for food, water, hygiene and cleaning supplies, baby food, diapers and more for parishes and people in need. “God bless you.”
The caravan left St. Catherine of Siena at 4:30 a.m., and the bus of volunteers arrived back in Metairie at midnight. In Beaumont, the first stop, volunteers first unloaded 18-wheelers already on site before unloading three of their own that had been part of the six-hour convoy from Metairie.
Grateful for the cavalry
Catholic Charities staff and volunteers greeted the Metairie travelers with thanks and a prayer offered by Bishop Curtis Guillory, Bishop of Beaumont since 2000 and a native of Mallet, Louisiana, who had served in the Archdiocese of New Orleans from 1974-88.
He said the greatest signs after a disaster are the individuals rushing to aid others, no matter their race or belief.
“With you people here, it is a sign of hope,” Bishop Guillory said. “It gives us encouragement. We realize we are not in this alone.”
The Diocese of Beaumont’s devastation was comparable to Hurricane Rita’s damage in 2005 and Ike’s in 2008, Bishop Guillory said. This time, relentless rain badly damaged 12 of 50 churches in the diocese, three schools and sent eight feet of water into Holy Family Retreat Center.
“It’s been very bad,” Bishop Guillory said.
School staff hard hit
At St. Ann School in Orange, Texas, all staff members except the principal had water in their homes, and there was no running water for three days, with a boil advisory remaining two weeks later due to pumps flooding.
“That’s what we are facing here,” Bishop Guillory said. “But through it all, you see the goodness of people. God speaks through storms, and through the people.”
Carol Fernandez, executive director and president of Catholic Charities Southeast Texas, concurred with Bishop Guillory. Fernandez was living in New Orleans in 2005 and lost her home in Katrina.
“I can’t say thank you enough,” Fernandez said. “It is so awesome bringing love from my hometown and all over the nation. Volunteers are providing help and creating hope. This is what it is we do (as Catholics) – helping people but at the same time reminding people that they are loved and not forgotten.”
She estimated that her agency would be distributing needed items for four to six weeks.
Next stop, Houston
From Beaumont, three of the 18-wheelers continued west to a Knights of Columbus Council and St. Vincent de Paul distribution center and thrift store on the east side of Houston.
The Knights of Columbus from the Archdiocese Galveston-Houston opened Council 3077 headquarters in Houston, which wasn’t greatly affected by Harvey. Diocesan Deputy Knight Bill Moeller said it would be used as a drive-through for individuals needing supplies and food donated by the Houston Food Bank and other generous individuals.
Knights also gutted homes and delivered hot food, said Knight Jerry Giegerica.
“I think this helps immensely,” Moeller said of the donations from the Archdiocese of New Orleans. “When you have neighboring states sending supplies to help us, we are putting donations to good use. Nothing is getting turned down. We appreciate everything you did. We’ll return it someday.”
At around 4:45 p.m., the last of the 18-wheelers arrived at the St. Vincent de Paul Vincentian Center in east Houston, serving as the central warehouse and thrift store frequented by the area’s surrounding Hispanic population, said Christina Deajon, vice chancellor of St. Vincent de Paul.
“We are their family and have relationships with them,” she said. “We are a regular source of food for many people.”
Pallets of rice, tissue paper, paper towels, food, clothing, etc., were pulled from the trucks, and Deajon said some remained at the location to stock its food pantry and thrift store “where people can come and get what they need.”
Sixty parishes have St. Vincent de Paul councils, Deajon said, and many Vincentians were trained to help impacted families navigate recovery services at the local, state and national level.
“This is taking the recovery center and putting it in a community that has been severely impacted,” she said. Deajon noted that more than 61 Catholic sites, primarily church parishes, have reported varying degrees of damage. Six sites – including four churches whose sanctuaries were underwater, the Christian Renewal Retreat Center and diocesan Cemeteries Office – reported catastrophic damage. A Knights council in Dickinson was completely destroyed.
Galveston-Houston Cardinal Daniel DiNardo celebrated Mass at three of the four devastated parishes, Deajon said. Through the archdiocesan-run San Jose Charity Health clinic, medical professionals nationwide descended on satellite medical sites erected in hard-hit areas such as Our Lady of Guadalupe in Rosenberg, Texas, which saw 100 people the first day. Several medical volunteers remained for two weeks, Deajon said.
“It’s those kinds of stories that have kept us going,” Deajon said, “What has been an incredible gift is seeing people giving of their time and donating items. When I first heard about the convoy from New Orleans, I said, ‘Are you kidding?’ Do you know what that means?”
St. Catherine volunteers saw their effort as a repayment of kindnesses Texas bestowed on Louisianians during Katrina. The parish also had sent supplies to Baton Rouge in 2016.
“We saw who it was helping and how it affected people, and we wanted to do this as a family (his wife and daughter accompanied him) and a parish community,” said Wayne Francingues, past Men’s Club co-president. “I think we all saw how desperate our area was for Katrina, and Houston helped us and Baton Rouge helped us, so it was easy to give back. We understand that desperation you feel and know little things like we did in Texas can help.”
Father Tim Hedrick, parochial vicar of St. Catherine of Siena, was proud to be part of such a generous parish that recognized a need and worked hard to fill it. St. Pius X Parish and Archbishop Chapelle High School also donated supplies to the relief effort.
“And something even greater was that we showed them the love of Christ and gave them hope during their difficult time,” he said. “Our motto (at St. Catherine of Siena) is ‘Centered on Christ and Ablaze with Love.’ This really shows that we as a community are trying to live that out at St. Catherine.”
He quoted St. Catherine of Siena, the parish’s patron saint, “Be who God created you to be, and you will set the world on fire. As Christians, we are called to be the hands and feet of Christ and that’s who we were today,” Father Hedrick said.
Christine Bordelon can be reached at email@example.com.