French Settlement – Thursday started with a buzz of activity. People were coming in to check the status of their cases or to apply to SBA for restoration loans. One case stood out. An elderly lady with her disabled son came in who had not ever applied for help. I first noticed her while she was sitting with a FEMA specialist. Her face and posture showed fatigue, despair and desperation. After a time, the FEMA specialist came to us and explained her situation. After the flood waters receded, she and her son moved in with her granddaughter. She just didn’t think she should rely on a “hand-out” or on strangers. She had spent three weeks coping with losing everything and caring for her son. One of the problems now was the recovery assistance system required her to phone in and register. She had no phone.
We offered to take her outside to our rental car and let her use a cell phone to call and register. During the process of explaining this to her and registering her with Catholic Charities, the original FEMA specialist contacted his supervisor and made special arrangements to expedite her registration, get her inspection and line-up other benefits. We prayed with her and helped out on a visit that lasted more than two hours. Everyone in that recovery center tent displayed compassion and understanding.
They were asking the same question I was, “What if she were my mother?”
Later in the day, another man came to me and explained he had lost everything and had been living in a tent for three weeks so he could care for his dog. I asked if he had transportation, and he proudly proclaimed he had his motorcycle. Although he had registered for assistance, he was very much like the elderly lady in not wanting to ask for help.
We were located on the property of St. Joseph Catholic Church. Every day the parish was open to feed people from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. They were also distributing clothes, canned goods and household items. Thursday members of another parish, along with their priest, were working to feed people. Coincidently, I ran into the town police chief. The town hall had been flooded, and business was being transacted out of the St Joseph Parish Center.
Baton Rouge – On Friday the entire Catholic Charities USA group met with Baton Rouge’s executive director, David Aguillard. He wanted to express his appreciation for our help and ask us for guidance. I think it’s important to note that when a disaster hits there is always chaos and confusion. Catholic Charities Baton Rouge has done an impressive job of getting organized, working with federal and state agencies and addressing the most important priority—helping those who are suffering.
My team from Catholic Charities USA had representatives from Oklahoma, New Jersey, Colorado, Texas and North Carolina. They were all experienced disaster professionals, and I was proud to be with them. This afternoon we’ll be working in the warehouse and a variety of other final tasks before leaving on Sunday.
Please pray for the people of Louisiana and offer your support. They’re going to need it for a long time.