Many come together to help flood victims

By Peggy Moraczewski
Correspondent

Beyond the devastation of the Memorial Day weekend flooding in Central Texas, traumatized victims took solace in an outpouring of generosity from friends, neighbors and strangers. 
“We never want a disaster to happen, but when it does that is when humanity is at its best. Political, social and economic status gets stripped away and we simply become people helping people,” said Sara Ramirez, executive director of Catholic Charities of Central Texas (CCCTX).
Heartbreaking stories of missing people and valiant rescues emerged in the days following the storms. The needs were urgent and enormous. People without homes, food and clothing were desperate and frozen by fear of the unknown. In the midst of any disaster, emergency first responders and the American Red Cross take the lead. However, critical complementary aid and assistance from Catholic organizations were in place within 24 hours.
This particular disaster response dictated a different approach than previous disasters, such as in West explosion and in Bastrop, which were contained to a particular area. The widespread nature of the flooding required an all-encompassing approach by CCCTX and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SSVdP), in order to assess each community’s needs.
CCCTX immediately activated its disaster response team and established recovery staging areas at St. John the Evangelist Parish in San Marcos and the Catholic Charities office in Austin to serve seven counties in the diocese, which were declared a disaster by the federal government. At the same time, SSVdP also served from St. John Parish and provided intake assistance and helped people find resources for meals, transportation, etc. More than 260 SSVdP volunteers responded in more than 12 municipalities: Buda, Kyle, Dripping Springs, Luling, San Marcos, Wimberley, Lockhart, Martindale, Cedar Park, Pflugerville and Hutto.
The weekend after Memorial Day, St. John Parish hosted 17 relief organizations, including the local Lutheran and Baptist churches. All of these groups arrived with a desire to help alleviate the pain and suffering of flood victims. 
“It was beautiful to see the churches all together working. We were one church under one God,” said Father Victor Mayorga, pastor of St. John Parish.
Long-time parishioners Juanita Vargas and Tony Grandinetti shared their personal stories. Forced to flee during the floods, they returned to uninhabitable homes with very few salvageable items. Neither denied the uphill battle they face, but consistently reflected on their experience as recipients of astonishing kindness in the aftermath of disaster. 
Choking back tears, Vargas said, “I don’t know how we would’ve managed. It has been a beautiful outpouring of love; we wouldn’t have been able to make it without them (friends). We knew God was watching over us.”
Grandinetti, a former San Marcos High School history teacher, member of the Knights of Columbus, and father of four, readily admitted he was unaccustomed to being on the receiving end of charitable acts. So he was somewhat dumbfounded when former students and church volunteers arrived to help clean his house after the flood. He said a complete stranger pulled into his driveway and gave him a $100 bill and someone else offered a new refrigerator. He did not deny that many tears have been shed, but said, “We’ll move forward. We have each other and community support and we’ll be fine.”
Hays County suffered an inordinate amount of damage, including the devastating loss of life. Michael Steinert, a parishioner of St. Mary Parish in Wimberley and a member of the Knights of Columbus, serves as mayor of Woodcreek, a small, neighboring community. He credits the recently initiated emergency warning system in Hays County with saving many lives. But the traumatic events in a community he loves have left him shaken to the core. He said Knights of Columbus chapters from across the country have reached out to help. St. Mary Parish in Wimberley is channeling donations to CCCTX and SSVdP.
Both of these organizations will continue helping flood victims into the distant future. For SSVdP their real work begins in the months following a disaster, when they accelerate their services and help families for the long term. SSVdP is a “relational” ministry that visits homes to talk to people about their needs. 
“We want them to see the face of Christ in us as we see the face of Christ in them,” said Stacy Ehrlich, executive director of SSVdP.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul House in a Box (HIB) helps people after they are able to safely return to their homes. This program provides up to $2,000 worth of new goods, such as a mattress, linens, sofa, etc. The SSVdP is working with Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD) to set up a distribution center in the southern region of the Austin Diocese and to establish a process for referring clients to the HIB program.
To address the loss of vehicles, the SSVdP established the Memorial Day Flood 2015 Vehicle Replacement Program. Through the generosity of the Harry L. Willett Foundation, Nyle and Nancy Maxwell (parishioners of St. William Parish in Round Rock) and the Nyle Maxwell Family Dealerships, $200,000 was donated to assist families who lost their primary source of transportation in the flooding. 
The SSVdP also serves as the non-profit financial agent for the McComb Carey Charba Schultz Rescue and Relief Fund, which has covered expenses such as air support, equipment, K-9 units and recovery and relief for families. 
To date, CCCTX has served more than 800 families, placing more than 100 families in emergency housing and providing more than $80,000 in emergency financial aid. Other assistance provided by CCCTX includes prescription assistance, hearing aids, eyeglass replacements, hygiene kits, non-perishable food items, counseling services, and a therapy dog is available to assist families on the path to recovery. Employees and volunteers worked 15 to 16 hour days to meet survivors’ immediate needs and St. John the Evangelist Parish has been used daily during the disaster recovery efforts. 
“We are a church and we will continue to help,” Father Mayorga said. 
CCCTX also serves on the long-term recovery committee that includes case management and assisting families with needs that were unfulfilled during the rebuilding period. It can take many years to recover from a disaster, and CCCTX will be there to walk beside those in need throughout their journey, Ramirez said.
If you need help, wish to make a donation or would like to volunteer, visit the CCCTX website at www.ccctx.org or the SSVdP website at www.ssvdp.org.