Katrina: Area Catholics can help
Right now, money is needed more than any other aid
By Patricia Kasten
Compass Associate Editor
Special hurricane collection
Bp. David Zubik has directed all parishes in the Green Bay Diocese to hold a special collection to assist Catholic Charities, USA, in Hurricane Katrina relief Sept. 10-11.
In the horrendous wake of Hurricane Katrina, devastating 90,000 square miles across the Deep South, people in northeast Wisconsin want to help. They want to get together, get down there and do something.
However, that wouldn't help, according to Karen Johnston, director of Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Green Bay. In constant contact with Catholic Charities USA, she said that the best thing to do right now is send money to relief efforts.
"That is still the best way to help," she said. "Sending money back to those areas reinforces the economy. In the long term, that is really what's going to make the difference."
Despite the perceived lack of coordinated effort on the part of the federal government, Johnston said that there is a concerted charitable effort in place. It is coordinated by Federal Emergency Management (FEMA) and involves the Red Cross, the Salvation Army and Catholic Charities, USA:
The Red Cross is in charge of rescue and recovery - an effort made increasingly difficult by the lack of water, electricity, safe transportation routes and security and by hot temperatures.
The Salvation Army coordinates food sites and distribution - also hampered by lack of water and electricity.
Catholic Charities handles all the long-term recovery and relocation efforts.
Johnston said that what most people don't understand, is that these agencies "cannot go in there until they've receive the OK from the FEMA people," along with permission from Homeland Security.
"This is going to take the combined efforts of a ton of people," Johnston said.
To that end, she and her staff - at the request of Catholic Charities USA - are compiling a data base of volunteers and offers for housing, food, and other supplies. When the word comes from FEMA, she assured people, these skills and offers will be directed where they are most needed.
For the moment, however, donations of money are the most necessary, since that can be used to coordinate all the other efforts.
To that end, Bp. David Zubik has asked Catholics in all 169 parishes of the diocese to contribute to a special Hurricane Katrina collection this weekend, Sept. 9-10.
"The disaster is heart-breaking to see," Bp, Zubik said. "It is hard to comprehend what it is like for the people there who are faced with having lost loved ones and nearly all of their possessions. Fortunately, we are blessed to live in a country whose people are willing and able to help strangers as well as friends."
Donations will be forwarded to Catholic Charities USA.
In the long-run, all sorts of needs must be met. Most especially, Johnston said seasoned volunteers - people who have worked with disaster relief before or who are trained in counseling and volunteer coordinating - and arrangements for refugee housing and relocation will be at the top of the list.
"People are having trouble realizing that we don't need a truckload of teddy bears right now," Johnston said. "It's a nice thought, but hold that for now."
Teddy bears may be needed - down the road. For now, Catholic Charities will keep offers for them - and a myriad of other supplies - in their database and "call in their chips" when the needs are better known.
Johnston also tells people to remember that this will be a long-term effort. There are thousands of people who are now refugees, and dealing with the after-effects of Hurricane Katrina will require a whole new mindset.
"All the disaster relief we've done in the U.S. before this has been concentrated," she said. "It's been short-term, and it didn't involve water and massive numbers of people that you just couldn't move somewhere else."
Bp. Zubik believes that people will rise to the challenge, both nationally and locally.
"The people of northeastern Wisconsin are extremely generous and I am confident that they will help as much as they can," he said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the survivors of
Johnston said that there is one more thing to consider, one thing we should all pray for: "that there isn't another tropical storm brewing in the Gulf .... There are still eight weeks left in the hurricane season."
Donations may be made online at www.catholiccharitiesusa.org or by sending checks to the Diocese of Green Bay, P.O. Box 1506, Green Bay, WI 54305-1506. Checks should be issued to the "Diocese of Green Bay" and note "Hurricane Katrina" in the memo.
Updates of Catholic Charities efforts - as well as a link to Catholic Charities USA can be found on the diocesan web site at www.gbdioc.org.