Catholics from all parts of the Diocese of Rochester are finding ways to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The following are some of the relief-effort initiatives that have been instituted in the Finger Lakes, Monroe/Livingston and Southern Tier regions.
Finger Lakes region:
When Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast as a category 4 hurricane on the morning of Aug. 29, it devastated many of the communities in its path, including New Orleans. Upon hearing the extent of the disaster’s destruction, agencies, parishes and individuals around the country jumped into action, and those in the Diocese of Rochester were no exception.
St. Mary’s Parish in Canandaigua teamed up with Dan Miller, a local contractor, and within a few days formed a not-for-profit organization specifically designed to help hurricane survivors. Through the new Upstate New York/Ontario County Hurricane Katrina Relief Project, Miller and a crew of several volunteers planned to travel to Hattiesburg, Miss., with a truckload of donated supplies Sept. 12.
After approaching the American Red Cross to find out how he could help survivors, Miller was told the best thing he could do was make a monetary donation to the organization, said Deacon Claude Lester, faith-formation director at St. Mary’s. Making a donation was not enough, however, and Miller felt compelled to help in a more physical and tangible way.
Miller wanted to load up his truck with supplies and drive to Mississippi and Louisiana, Deacon Lester said. Although he’s not a member of St. Mary’s, Miller thought the parish might be able to help him carry out his plan and approached Deacon Lester with the idea. With the help of Sisters of St. Joseph in Rochester, Arkansas and Mississippi, Deacon Lester was able connect with the Catholic Charities office in Hattiesburg, which is in the Diocese of Biloxi.
Staff members there sent Deacon Lester a list of supplies they were in immediate need of, including air mattresses, diapers, school supplies, bottled water, canned goods, new socks and underwear, insect repellent and personal-hygiene items. Members of St. Mary’s and the Canandaigua community were encouraged to purchase or donate these items and contribute money to be used for gas and travel costs. The Upstate New York/Ontario County Hurricane Katrina Relief Project has been officially incorporated because “we very much want to be good stewards of the donations people give us,” Deacon Lester noted.
Although he knows the affected communities are nowhere near ready to rebuild yet, Miller plans to be there when that stage begins, Deacon Lester said. Crews of volunteers from Canandaigua will probably also eventually travel south to help rebuild, he added. Miller has also contacted national tool companies, such as DeWalt, to see if they’ll donate tools and other necessary supplies when it comes time to rebuild.
“He wants to make a long-term commitment to stay down there as long as there is a need,” Deacon Lester said, noting the project is still growing and evolving.
Deacon Lester told Miller he and his fellow volunteers will be the eyes and ears of the Canandaigua community, witnessing things most people will never see. Miller will have a camera and will send photographs to Deacon Lester.
“It is uncomprehensible. It’s more than we can ever imagine,” he said.
While volunteers in Canandaigua gathered donations to fill their truck, members of Sacred Heart and St. Ann’s parishes in Auburn and Owasco waited anxiously to find out whether a group of 150 hurricane survivors would be relocating to their area. The American Red Cross had planned to bring the survivors to the Syracuse area on Sept. 8, but the effort was postponed, said Debbie Cornall, a member of Sacred Heart Parish.
When Cornall first heard the refugees would be arriving at a Syracuse inn, she began collecting food and clothing for them. Cornall is no stranger to this type of collection, and in fact has spent the last year collecting clothing, shoes and school supplies for Iraqi children through her Child to Child program. Cornall began the Child to Child program in July 2004 after receiving a letter describing the children’s needs from her son Joseph, a member of the New York National Guard stationed in Iraq. Although her son returned home in January, Cornall continues to collect clothing for Iraqi children and didn’t hesitate to do the same for Hurricane Katrina survivors.
“It’s my ‘thank you’ for keeping Joe alive. I said when my son came back that God put his hands on me, and he’s not letting go. If there’s something I can do, I’m just going to jump in and do it,” Cornall said.
The parish communities of Sacred Heart and St. Ann’s have been more than generous in their response to both projects, she said, noting the parishes planned to put collection boxes for donated goods at each parish as soon as they found out whether the hurricane survivors would be coming to the area.
Cornall said she’d know whether the hurricane survivors were coming to Syracuse, which is 30 miles from Auburn, by Sept. 10 or 11. If they didn’t end up coming to Syracuse, Cornall said she would ship the supplies she’s collected to them. Waiting with a living room full of donated clothing and personal-hygiene items and a car loaded with nonperishable food, Cornall hoped they would give the Syracuse area a chance but said she understood why they might be wary of moving so far from their home states.
“It’s colder weather, it’s a whole different culture altogether. That’s got to be terrible, to be forced to move so far away from everything you know,” she said.
In Walworth, Ric and Barbara Carley of St. Mary’s of the Lake Parish in Ontario were also playing the waiting game. The weekend after the hurricane hit, Ric received a phone call from the Salvation Army asking him to travel with the organization to the affected areas and help survivors, Barbara said. He was supposed to leave Walworth on Sept. 5, but the trip was postponed, probably due to the large number of people traveling to the area and the logistics involved in coordinating such an effort, she said.
Ric was told he would still be sent south, but he didn’t know what day he would leave, which state he would be working in or even what he would be doing there, Barbara said. Although Ric is still eager to help out, this has made day-to-day life in the Carley household rather difficult for the moment, she said.
“We’re sort of in limbo right now. It sort of puts things on hold,” she said.
Ric has been involved with the Salvation Army for a number of years, mostly through its annual Red Kettle Campaign and as a board member, Barbara said. He’s never worked with the organization in this capacity before, but helping others comes naturally to Ric, his wife said.
“He’s a good guy. He just thinks of others,” she said.
Elsewhere in the region, parishes, schools and individuals did what they could to assist Hurricane Katrina survivors:
* At least five parishes in the region took up special collections for hurricane survivors the weekend of Sept. 3-4, raising nearly $10,000. Our Lady of the Snow Parish in northern Cayuga County, St. Francis de Sales and St. Stephen’s parishes in Geneva, St. Michael’s Parish in Newark and St. Patrick’s Parish in Macedon were among those that took up special collections.
* A number of local parishes planned to take up special collections the weekend of Sept. 10-11. These parishes included St. Francis Solanus Parish in Interlaken, Holy Cross Parish in Ovid, St. Mary’s of the Lake Parish in Ontario, St. Patrick’s Parish in Macedon, St. Mary’s Parish in Canandaigua and Our Lady of the Snow Parish.
* Members of the Martha Ministry at St. Mary’s of the Lake Parish planned a Sept. 18 bake sale to raise money for relief efforts.
* A Mass for victims of Hurricane Katrina was held at St. Michael’s Parish in Penn Yan Sept. 6, and members of Our Lady of the Lakes Catholic Community’s youth group planned to meet Sept. 18 to pray the rosary for hurricane victims.
* Members of the youth group at Church of the Epiphany Parish in Sodus and St. Rose of Lima Parish in Sodus Point held a bake sale, collected donations at weekend Masses and stood on street corners to collect donations from motorists. They raised more than $1,500, which they then used to purchase clothing, supplies and Wal-Mart gift cards for refugees in Houston.
* Students at St. Michael’s School in Penn Yan brought in used clothing and shoes, which were then given to the Salvation Army for hurricane survivors. The students also planned to collect donations for survivors after Mass at St. Michael’s Parish on Sept. 11.
* Students at St. Michael’s School in Newark collected canned goods, bottled water, clothing and medical supplies, which were to be loaded onto a tractor-trailer truck owned by the parents of a student. Members of the Lyons Police Department were to transport the truck and trailer to Louisiana Sept. 16. Each student in the school also brought in $1, and the money was to be sent to help children in the devastated areas.
Josephite Brother Louis Tomasso came to Rochester from New Orleans in August for vacation — and was forced to watch on TV the devastation Hurricane Katrina wrought in his beloved city, as well as the Gulf Coast, Aug. 29.
The brother of Father Paul J. Tomasso, pastor of the churches of St. Anthony of Padua, Holy Apostles and Holy Family in Rochester, Brother Tomasso has worked in New Orleans since the early 1970s. The Josephites are dedicated to serving the African-American community in the American South, and Brother Tomasso noted that he works in the primarily African-American parish of Corpus Christi in downtown New Orleans. Members of his parish have evacuated to the Astrodome in Houston or to Baton Rouge or other parts of Louisiana, he said. He added that some of his parish’s members were unable to leave, and noted that some elderly parishioners have been confirmed dead, at least two because of heart attacks.
“I’ve spent a lot of time wondering and worrying,” Brother Tomasso said, noting he is unable to return to New Orleans to see his church until authorities allow it. He added that he has been praying the rosary continuously, and said he was certain that his beloved city would recover from the flooding. The people of New Orleans are prayerful and boast a unique culture, he noted, adding that he is tired of the “blame game” politicians and others are currently waging over whether the city was adequately prepared for the disaster that befell it.
“If you want to do an evaluation, do it later, not now,” he said. “Let’s help these people get back on their feet.”
Helping the people of Louisiana get back on their feet compelled five Sisters of St. Joseph to pile into a Buick and leave Rochester before sunrise on Sept. 8, according to Sister Donna Del Santo, vocations director for the Rochester congregation. The women religious — Sisters Del Santo, Peg Brennan, Jean Bellini, Phyllis Tierney and Eileen Curtis — were slated to arrive in Houma, La., the evening of Sept. 9, Sister Del Santo said, adding that they will be helping the New Orleans-based Sisters of St. Joseph of Medaille in their relief efforts.¬†
“We will be organizing and training teams of volunteers to assist people who have lost everything with all of the practical aspects of putting a life back together again,” Sister Del Santo said.
Houma, which is approximately 50 miles outside of New Orleans, was not severely affected by the hurricane, so it is being used as a staging point for recovery efforts.
On Sept. 9, Sister Elaine Hollis, SSJ, departed for Louisiana with the American Red Cross. Sister Hollis is a member of the National Association of Catholic Chaplains and a Red Cross volunteer.¬†
Meanwhile, in Rochester, hundreds of people attended a Sept. 8 meeting at New Life Ministries in Rochester, where speakers noted that Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and Muslim groups have pledged support to help families that may relocate to the area. The effort was titled “Rochester Christian Response,” and the presentation featured speakers representing Protestant, Evangelical, Jewish and government organizations, as well as Catholic Family Center, the Red Cross and the Greater Rochester Community of Churches, an ecumenical organization to which the Diocese of Rochester belongs.
Mel Walczak, manager of Monroe County’s Office of Faith Based & Community Initiatives, said the Rochester area was expected to receive 150 people displaced by the flooding, although he didn’t know when they would be arriving. Those attending the meeting were asked to consider housing a dislocated family or supporting relocation efforts in a variety of ways, from transporting people to appointments to helping them find jobs.
Karen McCloskey, who attends Holy Ghost Parish in Gates, said she went to the meeting to learn how she could help a dislocated family.
“I’m not close enough to throw water bottles in the trunk and drive over (to the Gulf Coast),” she said. “It’s nice to make a donation, but I’d like to do something to make you feel you’ve got a concrete involvement.”
To learn more about Rochester Christian Response, call 585/288-1875.
Meanwhile, the diocese noted that Catholic Family Center in Rochester had submitted a proposal to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to house up to 50 dislocated families in vacant apartments and homes throughout the diocese. And churches in Monroe and Livingston counties held collections for the relief efforts of Catholic Charities USA and other groups, and had raised more than $62,000 as of Sept. 9 — and that’s counting only those who reported what they collected.
Parishes reporting special collections and other efforts included St. Mark’s, Greece; Assumption, Fairport; St. Pius Tenth, Chili; Good Shepherd, Henrietta; St. Thomas More, Brighton; St. Joseph’s, Rush; Our Lady of Perpetual Help and St. Michael’s, Rochester; St. Joseph’s, Penfield; St. Charles Borromeo, Greece; St. Matthew’s, Livonia; St. Cecilia’s and St. Margaret Mary, Irondequoit; St. Paul of the Cross, Honeoye Falls; St. Agnes, Avon; Holy Trinity and St. Rita, Webster; and St. Rose, Lima.
Other parishes reporting that they were planning to take up collections and/or raise funds for relief efforts included St. Leo’s, Hilton; St. Anne, Rochester; and the Cathedral Community of Holy Rosary, Most Precious Blood and Sacred Heart in Rochester.
Other local efforts to aid hurricane relief included the following:
* Church of the Assumption, Fairport, collected various supplies, including diapers, toiletries and towels, for a Louisiana Catholic parish.
* The Pledge for Life Team at St. Leo Parish, Hilton, is collecting baby supplies and basic personal-hygiene items to be sent to a refugee center in Baker, La.
* Children and young people at Church of the Resurrection in Fairport are raising funds for relief efforts through car washes, flower bulb sales and other activities.
* St. Vincent DePaul Parish, Churchville, is conducting “Operation Underwear.” The parish is collecting new packages of underwear (men, women, children, any size) to send to a parish in Houston.
* Good Shepherd in Henrietta is talking with other parishes in the Rush-Henrietta area regarding possible sponsorship of dislocated families.
* St. Thomas More, Brighton, may “twin” with a parish in the Louisiana area for an ongoing, long-term relationship.
* The Rush Henrietta Interfaith community is considering assisting a dislocated family.
* Father William Leone, pastor of St. Anne Parish, Rochester, has been deployed to Gulfport, Miss., with the Army National Guard.
* St Joseph’s in Penfield is exploring the possibility of adopting one or more families.
* St. Cecilia in Irondequoit is considering “adopting” a dislocated family.
* Each month at St. Paul of the Cross, Honeoye Falls, and St. Rose, Lima, children take up a “Penny Collection” for a charitable cause. They are donating this month’s collection to Catholic Charities USA’s relief efforts.
* The Rizk children of Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish, Brighton — Nina, 13; Michael 11; Emma, 8; and Catherine, 5 — manned a lemonade stand at their home to raise relief money. The children used their own money to buy the lemonade and supplies, baked cookies to sell, and made signs and flyers as well. The children raised $233 and presented the money to the Red Cross.
Southern Tier region:
Many Southern Tier residents can relate to damaging storms, having experienced the remnants of Hurricane Agnes in 1972 that caused severe flooding in Elmira, Corning and neighboring communities.
So when the call sounded for relief from Hurricane Katrina, empathy was in ample supply as evidenced by a huge response from Catholics in the Tier.
For example, Our Lady of the Valley Parish in western Steuben County raised more than $6,000 from a second collection Sept. 3-4 — even though the collection was not announced until Mass time. Father Patrick Van Durme, pastor, said he invited parishioners to hold cash and envelopes for the special collection that would normally have gone in the first collection.
“The best thing is that our regular first collection was not down that much,” Father Van Durme remarked.
The money was forwarded to Catholic Charities USA. Father Van Durme said another parish collection was scheduled for Sept. 10-11, and that St. Ann’s School in Hornell was working on a fundraiser as well.
Our Lady of the Valley was among many Catholic parishes and agencies in the Tier that notified the Courier of their relief initiatives. Others are:
* At Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick’s in Tioga County, parishioner Dan Martin is organizing an effort that could bring as many as 20 displaced youths from Mississippi to the area to be enrolled at St. Patrick’s School in Owego.
* Lacy Park, religious-education coordinator at Holy Cross in Dryden, is looking to launch a youth service project involving fundraisers and collections. Park said she was moved to action after hearing of the victims’ great need from a friend who lives in Baton Rouge, state capital of Louisiana.
* An ecumenical prayer service for victims, workers and volunteers connected with Katrina was set for Sept. 11 at Pulteney Park in Bath.
* Another ecumenical effort involves St. Gabriel’s Parish in Hammondsport. During a four-church progressive dinner on Sept. 9, which annually benefits the American Red Cross, baskets were also put out to aid the Red Cross hurricane relief network.
* St. Gabriel’s is also donating one-third of its proceeds from its summer festival to Catholic Charities. In addition, donation baskets for Catholic Charities are being left out after Masses at St. Gabriel’s through the end of September.
* Laura Opelt, director of Catholic Charities of Steuben County, said she has been approached by numerous organizations, businesses and individuals who would like to sponsor families for long- and short-term housing and relocation needs. She has forwarded the information to Catholic Charities USA and is waiting to hear on referrals.
* Anne Bremer, bookkeeper for St. Mary’s Parish in Elmira, noted that a second collection on Sept. 4 raised a total of $1,600, and that additional money from parishioners has continued coming in since that time. Bremer, who is also the bookkeeper at St. Casimir/St. Charles Borromeo, said that Elmira cluster had a collection scheduled for Sept. 10-11.
* St. Mary’s Parish in Bath held the first of four special collections for hurricane relief Sept. 4, with parishioners donating more than $650 for Catholic Charities. Deacon Ray Defendorf, pastoral administrator, said the parish is exploring the possibility of resettling a family in Bath.
* Other parishes that had scheduled collections for Sept. 10-11 included St. Catherine of Siena in Ithaca; Holy Family in northern Steuben/southern Livingston counties; the Tompkins County cluster of St. Anthony, Groton, Holy Cross, Dryden, and All Saints, Lansing; and Schuyler Catholic Community.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Contains reporting by Jennifer Burke, Rob Cullivan and Mike Latona.