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CSS, local parish continue to help struggling Davidson tornado victims
DAVIDSON COUNTY — Three months after a deadly tornado tore through rural Davidson County, many of the families hurt by the storm continue struggling to recover.
Of the 50 families directly affected by the EF2 twister – which left a trail of destruction about 12 miles long and killed two people in the area Nov. 17, 2011 – 30 families have been served by the Catholic Social Services office in Winston-Salem. Of those cases, 14 remain open with the staff of Catholic Social Services, a member affiliate agency of Catholic Charities USA. Catholic Social Services received a $10,000 grant from Catholic Charities USA last November to help fund this emergency response effort in the tornado's aftermath.
"Some families may have only met with us for a week or two, other families need long-term help," said Diane Bullard, director of the Winston-Salem Catholic Social Services office. "Some of them just lost everything, others were dealing with life challenges before the storm and have simply been overwhelmed."
Pictured: Toni Messina, a recent Catholic Social Services Disaster Response trainee, stands in front of the Catholic Social Service agency's van in Winston-Salem. She is wearing some of the "Mobile Visibility" items provided by Catholic Charities USA and used by emergency responders to identify themselves during a crisis. Messina also serves as a parent educator for the Winston-Salem-based Hand to Hand program, partly funded by Catholic Social Services. (Annette Tenny, Catholic News Herald)
These families, Bullard explained, are being helped through "phase two" of the recovery effort.
During "phase one" of their emergency response effort, the Catholic Social Services staff helped people find new housing, medicines and household supplies. They also helped families apply for financial aid and services such as unemployment insurance and food stamps.
Agency staff also partnered with Our Lady of the Rosary Church nearby in Lexington, which offered space in the church for the agency's mental health counselor to use. This has enabled the tornado victims to seek help without having to travel to Winston-Salem, easily an hour's drive from the hardest-hit areas.
For the families whose cases are still open, "phase two" recovery deals with short-term and long-term aid, Bullard noted. Some victims might need help buying work clothes or shoes, while others might need assistance paying a utility bill or rent. Some might have a place to live but still need essential furniture items such as a kitchen table.
Often transportation and communication issues have a large impact on other challenges. Cell phones bills are frequently one of the last things to be paid or simply ignored when budgets are stretched to the limit, for example – yet this creates a lag time between need and contact with the agency. Many people lost their vehicles during the storm and have not been able to replace them. Given the rural area, that makes traveling to a grocery store or food pantry extremely difficult.
Catholic Social Services helps these families with food and gas vouchers but often turns to local parishes for help in providing volunteer transportation and with keeping the clients connected and in contact with the agency's support staff.
Volunteers from the local parishes are a great help, Bullard emphasized.
"We reach out to them, let them know what a client needs, that we might not be able to provide directly, and they put the word out," she said.
More often than not, the people of those parishes come through – for Catholic Social Services and for the families who depend so much on their help.
The local disaster response arm of Catholic Social Services that responds with staff assistance and other resources when a disaster strikes is a relatively new initiative in the Charlotte diocese. Diane Bullard and her Catholic Social Services colleague Joseph Purello had attended a week-long disaster response training offered by Catholic Charities USA last fall. They had barely returned from this training when the mid-November tornado struck in the Piedmont-Triad region. Just two months later, on Jan. 11, another tornado touched down in Rutherford and Burke counties. The following morning, Catholic Social Services staff contacted the nearby parishes to check on damage reports, offer assistance if needed, and share news of possible resources to help parishes assist any affected households.
— Annette Tenny, correspondent
How can you help?
To contribute to the Disaster Recovery program of Catholic Social Services, mail donations to: Catholic Social Services, P.O. Box 20185, Winston-Salem, NC 27120. Please put "Disaster Relief" in the memo section of the check.
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