Monday, October 2, 2017
Jean Gonzalez - Florida Catholic - Orlando
CLEARWATER | Catholic Charities has played a crucial role in emergency response and long-term recovery efforts in the aftermath of this season’s devastating hurricanes.
In a show of solidarity and support of those efforts, Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, traveled to Florida Sept. 19, to offer kind words and funds to each of Florida six dioceses and one archdiocese.
Under a pavilion used for meals and intake/registration of residents at Pinellas Hope, a transitional housing facility in Clearwater, representatives from Catholic Charities agencies from across Florida gathered with Bishop Gregory Parkes of St. Petersburg and Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice for the check distributions that would total $2 million in donated funds for Hurricane Irma relief.
“I know that many of you are here at a price. This is a very difficult time for you, and you are working to heal and reaching out to the people you serve,” Sister Markham said at the podium, with a backdrop of blue tents and single-person, air-conditioned Hope Cottages, that were developed from used shipping containers. “These are emergency dollars but there is more help to come.”
It had only been a short time before her visit to Florida that Sister Markham made a similar visit to Catholic Charities directors in Texas, which saw devastation courtesy of Hurricane Harvey. She explained how when Harvey began to stir, she asked a text-to-give button be put on the Catholic Charities USA website to generate a donation stream. She hoped a preliminary result would at least hit $50,000.
“In three days we had collected $1 million,” she recalled. “By the time we cut the check for Texas, we received $2 million, and 100 percent of it would go to Catholic Charities in Texas.”
With Irma being forecast as a monster storm, Sister Markham asked that that same button be changed from “Hurricane Harvey Relief” to “Hurricane Relief.” Within another week, another $2 million would be collected, which would benefit Florida’s Catholic Charities agencies.
Sister Markham said donations continue to stream in, including another $1 million. Most likely further funds will be used for U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, which suffered catastrophic damage following Hurricane Maria. Sister Markham explained while there is a Catholic Charities presence on both islands, staffers of a single office serving the commonwealths will be overwhelmed with the great need and suffering of residents. Along with prayers, Sister Markham said she urges residents of the United States to continue with their generosity to aid their fellow Americans in the Caribbean.
“Across the nation we serve 9 million people in need within 167 dioceses through about 2,000 service agency locations,” Sister Markham said. “This (latest campaign) is a dramatic expression of our ministry. We want to share the bounty of the generosity of the American people who have joined in solidarity (in the aftermath of the hurricanes). These donations come with a lot of heart.”
Bishop Dewane, who serves as a liaison between Florida’s bishops and the various Catholic Charities in the state, thanked Sister Markham for her generosity and regarded the directors present as “strong leaders.” But he added they are also “exhausted” after the emotional and physical demands of making sure funds and goods get to the people in need.
The funds offered by Catholic Charities USA will be added to funds collected during weekend collections held at the parish level. Bishop Dewane reiterated how every portion of dollars donated will go directly to people in need.
“Buildings can be replaced, and lives will be put together as best as could be,” he said.
Each diocese director of Catholic Charities was invited to receive a check from Sister Markham. Sheila Gomez, executive director of Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Palm Beach, offered heartfelt thanks for the funds. Gary Tester, executive director of Catholic Charities of Central Florida, accepted the check on behalf of the Orlando Diocese. He said he was grateful for the funds, and for the “tremendous” networking that occurs between Florida Catholic Charities agencies so that resources get to people in need across the state.
Peter Roustis-Arroyo accepted a check on behalf of Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc., where he serves as executive director. He explained there are 12 disaster recovery centers throughout the 10-county diocese. And the need is great.
“Driving through Bonita Springs today, along 41, you will still see houses 6 to 8 feet under water,” he said. “This storm will affect people months and years to come. But we are here for the long haul.”