The floods of August 2016 turned practically all of south Louisiana into an inland lake. Enough rain fell to fill Lake Pontchartrain four times, flooding about 140,000 households and rivaling the scope of devastation wrought by Superstorm Sandy. Neighborhoods, homes and businesses flooded that were well out of the flood plain, and the inundation exceeded a 1,000-year flood level. More than 30,000 people were rescued. Nearly 200,000 houses and 11 percent of the state’s population was affected either directly or indirectly.
The day after the rain ceased, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Baton Rouge went to work, initially focusing on families and individuals in the shelters. As of Aug. 30, we’ve done case work on 850 families, or about 2,000 individuals.
Disaster recovery gets a revamp
We’ve been asked by FEMA to gear up for Immediate Disaster Case Management …. immediately. Something that is new for FEMA down here. There is usually at least a 4-month lag.
That means, that for this disaster’s scope, we’ll be hiring about 155 Disaster Case Managers/Recovery Specialists, and 40 support staff/supervisors, etc. as quickly as pos
sible. This number may rise. Catholic Charities USA is helping vet resumes and is sending some temporary Recovery Specialists. Other agencies in town are lending case managers temporarily, as are some neighboring Catholic Charities agencies –Catholic Charities of Biloxi and the Archdiocese of New Orleans. We’ve steadily grown the number we can send into the field from 3 last week, to 18 today.
With CCUSA deployed staff we have increased our outreach to Spanish-speaking families and will be distributing supplies in our area.
Over the weekend, we implemented what FEMA calls a “Multi-Agency Shelter Strike Force,” an interdisciplinary team that focuses on finding solutions and resources to move people out of shelters. This is new in our area.
Also new on the horizon … an integrated mental health component of long term recovery rather than temporary, layered-on crisis counseling. We may need to rely on foundation funding as FEMA funding doesn’t seem to allow this.
Handling material has been our biggest challenge because of the geographic scope of this event and the fact that the usual response infrastructure was damaged. We usually partner with Food Bank, which as an efficient logistics operation, to warehouse and help us move material, and as you know, their warehouse and equipment was flooded. Our core competency is not in materials management. However, under the able direction of CCDBR Board Chair Angele Davis, we’ve begged and received donated warehouse space, and she’s gotten us all in line! Seriously, Angele has secured not only space, but desperately needed cleaning supplies, hygiene kits and sunscreen from Wal-Mart and Johnson & Johnson.n.
The Archdiocese of New Orleans food bank, Second Harvest, has picked up in place of Baton Rouge Food Bank and delivered 300 tons of food and material in our Diocese.
In-kind donations have been coming in at a fairly steady rate from all over the country. Some from noteworthy individuals, such as Taylor Swift. The University of Alabama Football Team donated and delivered 42K pounds of product.
To date, 100K pounds of supplies have been delivered to the four corners of our diocese. We’ve also distributed $10K in gas and gift cards through church parishes. Here’s a partial listing of the groups we’ve assisted with relief supplies so far:
- St. Jean Vianney, Baton Rouge
- St. Joseph Catholic Church, Ponchatoula
- St. Anne, Sorrento
- Holy Rosary, St. Amant
- St. Paul’s Catholic Church, Baton Rouge
- St. Helena Catholic Church, Amite
- St. Helena School Board, Greensburg
- Holy Ghost Catholic Church, Hammond
- Redemptorist Catholic Church/St. Gerard, Baton Rouge
- Convoy of Hope, Baton Rouge
- St. Augustine, New Roads
- Hope Ministries, New Roads
- Tri-parish Food Bank, Fordoche
- Holy Family Home School Association
- FLAIM School, Baton Rouge
- Animal Alliance/Shelter, Baton Rouge
- Hispanic Outreach
We still have bleach and water available, and more donations are arriving daily. We also have access to supplies from other distribution sites with our partner agencies. Please let us know if you know of an agency or community with a need. Call 225-336-8700.
Inkind donations are useful in the first few weeks following a disaster, however, in the long run, cash donations are best to help families recover. Money is infused in our local economy, and we can address specific needs as they arise. To make a donation, go to www.catholicCharitiesBR.org or send a check to Catholic Charities, P. O. Box 1668, Baton Rouge, LA 70821.
This work couldn’t have been done without the help of around 50 volunteers who spent many hot days helping to unload, sort and deliver these goods. More volunteers are needed. Visit this page to sign up or call 225-336-8700.
Coordinating our response
We’ve gotten significant coverage from BBC, local Talk 107.3, and local Spanish radio and several Catholic Radio stations around the country … Wisconsin and New York in particular.
CCDBR participates in a “day end” briefing held by Baton Rouge Area Foundation at 5 p.m. These briefings are at a high level and productive for finding solutions to common problems, particu
larly the warehousing issue.
Bishop Muench visited with our staff one morning this week and was his usual inspirational self, giving us a moving reminder of how our work touches people out of love. In so doing God’s grace is revealed – perhaps especially to non-believers who doubt a loving God. He said to one who marveled at the effectiveness of CCDBR, “Have you ever thought that what you’ve experienced is the love of the God you don’t believe in?” But of course, Bishop Muench punctuated his remark with that hearty laugh of his.