The mission of our Spirit of Hope Disaster Services is to give hope through concrete corporal and spiritual works of mercy to those who become vulnerable after disasters. These works of mercy are based on bible verse, Matthew 25 where Jesus’s words are to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger and clothe the vulnerable. We are directed by Archbishop Aymond to deliver services with compassion and competence and that Catholic Charities will be an early responder and a forever responder.
Our catholic social teaching calls us to have a preferential option for the poor and vulnerable. With the onset of the pandemic in March, the effect of the stay at home orders on economy and the hurricanes that impacted Southeast Louisiana we have seen an increase in the numbers of people who are poor and vulnerable. In March, we realized that the COVID pandemic would be a long haul. We developed a tier system to address immediate and then long-term needs. Immediate needs were food, shelter and medical help. We triaged to assess the availability of social programs such as SNAP and Medicaid to ensure folks who would go hungry or those from populations highly impacted from the virus had the medical care necessary for survival. We also started a ministry of a food pantry to directly help people with food donations. We continue to provide needed rental assistance and advocate to avoid evictions to struggling families. Many of our participants are from the hospitality industry who were laid off through no fault of their own. Others had reduced hours or lost their jobs and had never needed this kind of assistance before. We provide this service with compassion and integrity as to uphold the dignity of the human person. By doing these concrete works of mercy we fed the hungry and sheltered those who might have become homeless without our support.
We were able to keep staff safe as well by developing remote services so that clients could get access to food cards and other assistance safely and efficiently. We also provided self-care opportunities for staff as they worked with families in crisis as they needed to be supported and cared for as well.
As the end of the summer we witnessed several hurricanes approaching our coast. As Laura hit Lake Charles, all of the Catholic Charities agencies in the state were in solidarity with Catholic Charities of Southwest Louisiana in Lake Charles. CCANO leadership and staff visited Lake Charles to provide emotional support and made sure the staff were safe by providing a generator for their convent. Over 12,000 Laura evacuees were displaced to hotels in New Orleans. Working in collaboration with the City of New Orleans, we staffed the Convention Center providing immediate emergency assistance including food cards, ID’s and needed emergency supplies. In addition, we collaborated with Cross Catholic Outreach who provided toiletry kits that we gave out and with Second Harvest of South Louisiana to ensure disabled seniors who couldn’t leave their rooms didn’t go hungry. We counseled the doubtful who were in trauma from the losing everything. We provided critical services to the elderly and the medically fragile with trips to dialysis, and other medical needs.
As a spiritual work of mercy, we provided bibles and rosaries to the evacuees as a spiritual work of mercy. Archbishop Aymond asked that we offer transportation to those Catholics in the hotels to attend Sunday Mass at the Cathedral. Several evacuees took part for many weeks until they returned home with a good sense of hospitality from the Archbishop and the local Catholic Church.
We continue to provide disaster case management to those remaining in the hotels as some are remaining in New Orleans and others transitioning back closer to Lake Charles.
While Hurricane Zeta did not inflict as much damage as Hurricane Laura, it did knock out the power to many in New Orleans and in the lower Plaquemines areas. We provided emergency shelter to fragile elderly who were on oxygen at the request of the City of New Orleans. St. Thomas Parish in Point a la Hache in lower Plaquemines East Bank was without power for several weeks so we provided needed emergency hygiene supplies and blankets. We are now providing disaster case management to those families in the Archdiocese impacted by Hurricane Zeta.
In conclusion, Catholic Charities provided the works of mercy immediately to those impacted by these disasters and will continue as long as needed. We were also grateful to work in collaboration with others as well to provide compassionate and competent services to the People of God.