OWENSBORO, Kentucky — Families across western Kentucky continue to face the impact of the December tornadoes that roared through several communities as one Catholic Charities agency accompanies them along the way.
Susan Montalvo-Gesser, director of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Owensboro, said that tornado recovery is both “short-term and long-term.”
Recovery efforts are expected to take two to four years, she told The Western Kentucky Catholic, the diocesan newspaper.
Short-term needs include shelter, clothing and medical assistance. Long-term needs include repairing and rebuilding homes damaged or destroyed by the storms.
Catholic Charities has been providing financial assistance through gift cards distributed by parishes.
Aid also is available from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and through a Small Business Administration loan program. The deadline to apply for both is Feb. 11.
Montalvo-Gesser said FEMA registrations had reached 14,800.
She said her agency has been working with long-term recovery organizations in 12 counties affected by the tornadoes as well as with storm survivors in a 13th county not included in the designated federal disaster area but which sustained some storm damage.
“We will have the CAP (Counseling Assistance Program offered by the diocese) and other crisis counseling available to all the tornado survivors,” she said. “We’ll have that emotional and spiritual care.”
Montalvo-Gesser said the average FEMA award that people receive is about $9,000, but that the maximum FEMA award for those who have lost “absolutely everything” is $36,000.
“Now, can you rebuild a house on that? No, you cannot,” she said.
This is where Catholic Charities will step in, helping people throughout western Kentucky to help heal and slowly rebuild their lives.
Montalvo-Gesser encouraged Catholic business owners, especially those with lumber and building materials, to consider offering supplies at a reduced cost. Catholic Charities also plans to coordinate with area parishes to house volunteers and prepare meals for those involved with rebuilding.
The agency director also credited Owensboro Bishop William F. Medley and “all the good people who have freely given of their time and talent to help.”
“It’s just amazing,” she said.
Montalvo-Gesser also said the outpouring of monetary donations from across the country has been incredible, but noted that because the work will be continuing for years she hopes cash donations will continue.
In addition to tornado recovery, Catholic Charities must continue its everyday operations such as offering immigration legal services, resources for those experiencing homelessness and crisis pregnancy care, which includes the St. Gerard Life Home in Owensboro.
Montalvo-Gesser is counting on donations to keep these other ministries going as well.
“My goal is to rebuild 350 homes, but Catholic Charities cannot do it alone,” she said. “We’re like the boy with the loaves and fishes, but if the boy with the loaves and fishes isn’t there, the people aren’t fed.”
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To learn more about ways to help, call the McRaith Catholic Center at (270) 683-1545.
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Barnstead is editor of The Western Kentucky Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Owensboro.