From the time Hurricane Sandy hit, Catholic Charities has been providing disaster relief. From disaster response professionals visiting homes and parishes to provide resources and information to individuals facing horrendous loss, to volunteers collecting and distributing food and supplies, to neighbors checking in on neighbors, the entire Catholic Charities community has responded to meet the human needs of the victims, providing help, creating hope and rebuilding lives.
Posts Tagged ‘disaster relief’
By Alice Kenny
Raindrops pour down a battered picket fence dotted with Mickey and Minnie Mouse paintings surrounding Marina Babkina’s two-story attached home in Midland Beach. They serve as faded reminders of a once-thriving international daycare center and home now struggling to rebuild after Hurricane Sandy touched down in this Staten Island enclave.
Ms. Babkina’s Karousel Daycare Center and Fairytale music studio provided crucial support for her predominantly Russian-born neighbors. In addition to allowing parents to work worry free, it helped young children, many of whom spoke no English, acclimate to their new lives in the United States.
“The human brain is set up to distinguish music before it distinguishes speech,” says Ms. Babkina, a U.S. citizen who emigrated from Russia nearly 20 years ago and holds masters degrees in music and economics. So Ms. Bakina, a widow whose husband died of cancer in 2002, used songs and instruments ranging from guitars to keyboards to help her tiny charges, 14 in all, learn language, math and art.
That ended when Hurricane Sandy pushed waves from the Atlantic Ocean that roars just one block away into the basement and first floor that housed her business. Meanwhile, 90- mile-an-hour winds ripped through her second-floor skylights, destroying the walls, floors and furniture that made up her home.
Ms. Babkina evacuated. But her adult son, Ilya, returned to save instruments stored in the finished basement. Instead, he nearly drowned. Forty-degree ocean water filled the lower room. He escaped by pulling himself up the cellar stairs, pushing his way out the front door and swimming nearly 15 blocks up Hyland Blvd. Finally, he reached dry land.
Yet at first, Ms. Babkina seemed like one of the lucky ones. Unlike many of her neighbors, she had flood insurance.
But she used up her flood insurance – $50,000 in all — to replace windows, walls, cabinets and appliances before engineers noticed that her house was shifting. Chocking on scents of mold mixed with sawdust, Ms. Bakina points to cracks zigzagging her windows and walls, salt water still flowing along her foundation and a jagged 12-square-foot gap in cement, a reminder of a cracked pipe that had to be dug up beneath her basement.
Her Catholic Charities Disaster Case Manager, Valerya Osipova, is helping this once-independent woman navigate a new world characterized by FEMA and forms, hope and desperation.
It has not been easy.
Ms. Babkina’s home is wedged in the middle of five attached houses. Construction engineers now recommend building pillars that would extend from deep in the ground to the houses’ roofs to shore up the now shifting homes. This, however, requires consent and financial support from all five homeowners as well as their insurance companies.
Meanwhile, Ms. Babkina is unable to move back into her home, reestablish the business that once paid her bills or provide the daycare that allowed many of her neighbors to work.
Ms. Osipova is helping Ms. Babkina negotiate with FEMA and with her insurance company. She obtained a $500 grant to replace the battered fence with a new one to allow Ms. Babkina to reopen her daycare business. She lined up donations that range from flooring to skylights and furniture between. She provided her with food from a Catholic Charities food pantry, helped her apply for food stamps and linked her with other government programs that Ms. Bakina once thought she would never need. And she serves as a comfort and sounding board when the time and energy needed to maintain the struggle seems too much for her to bear.
“It’s not easy,” Ms. Babkina says, pointing out a plot of dirt once filled by rose bushes that would bloom on her July birthday. “This year, there are no roses.”
Erin Smith spends her nights at a relative’s house and her days repairing her hurricane–torn home in South Beach.
She said that dealing with different government agencies after the storm was a daunting task.
“It was so overwhelming it made you want to throw in the towel,” Smith says as she walks from gutted to freshly painted rooms in her bungalow during a recent interview aired on NY1.
Catholic Charities announced last week that $38.5 million in federal funding has been allocated to its disaster recovery program with the help of Governor Cuomo. The program is modeled after a similar one run by Catholic Charities in 34 counties across New York State following Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee in 2011.
The Sandy recovery program will provide more caseworkers who can help local residents on Staten Island and throughout the city tackle a variety of tasks to cope with the hurricane’s consequences.
Eligibility is open to anyone with an unmet need that arose from or was exacerbated by Superstorm Sandy, even those who have not applied to FEMA for assistance.
Two months ago, Smith was referred to Catholic Charities caseworker MaryEllen Ferrera. The agency has about a dozen caseworkers on Staten Island who provide free assistance to homeowners hurt by Hurricane Sandy. Funds are allocated to the agency through a federal disaster assistance program.
Ferrera helped Smith get supplies and gift cards to rebuild her home. She has also reached out to government agencies on her behalf
“We get to know directors in positions to help and push through applications for our clients,” Ferrera says.
Smith says FEMA denied her applications several times. Ferrera intervened to successfully file an appeal. Finally, Smith received a FEMA grant.
Smith says her caseworker has not only helped her get help, she’s become a mentor and a friend.
It feels that I have somebody that’s going to have my back,” Smith says.
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Leaning on his black cane, Fujimoto Takashi, 64, struggles to pronounce words that convey the terror he felt the afternoon his basement apartment in Midland Beach, Staten Island, morphed into a whirlpool of chairs, refrigerator, motion and mementos.
Born in Hiroshima four years after the atom bomb was dropped there, Mr. Takashi already knew devastation first hand. He grew up believing, he said, that if he could make his way to the United States he would find a safe place to thrive.
For a long time, his plan seemed to work. Mr. Takashi moved to California in 1977. He developed a career as a photographer. And he later made his home in Staten Island.
Never did he suspect, he said, that a disaster spurred by nature and not by man would nearly kill him. But when Hurricane Sandy tore through Staten Island, the subsequent flooding inside his basement apartment electrocuted and nearly drowned him. It destroyed his health, his home and his means of making a living.
“Growing up in Hiroshima I helped other people and felt their pain; now others are feeling my pain,” Mr. Takashi said. “Catholic Charities gave me the encouragement I needed to not give up.”
Monday, October 29, began like most days, Mr. Takashi said. He was fixing a camera light plugged into the wall of in his Andrews Street apartment.
Suddenly he noticed water pouring in under his front door. He grabbed for the camera light plug.
But it was too late. Electrical currents bore through his right calf. They shot in one end, out the other and left a hole as their memento. He suffered a stroke, he recalled, then passed out.
He awoke to the taste of salt water, bouncing on furniture that floated five feet above the floor. His right arm and leg no longer functioned.
“Help me!” Fuji shouted.
Hurricane winds and neighbors’ panic smothered his screams. Night came and went. Fifteen hours passed. Water receded. His energy waned.
Finally, at 10:30 the following morning, his landlord knocked on his door.
Much of what happened next is blur, he said. An ambulance rushed him to some hospital – he can’t remember which. Later he was transferred to Staten Island University Hospital. For 38 days doctors treated burns that covered much of his body and physical and mental repercussions from his stroke. Finally, he was transferred to Golden Gate Nursing Home where therapists began teaching him how to walk again.
After two months in a hospital and rehabilitation center, he was released to go home.
But everything had changed. Hurricane Sandy stole much of his memory and mobility. It destroyed his photographic equipment, stealing his livelihood. And it tore apart his home, leaving his furniture, clothing – all he owned – rotting and covered with mold.
“When I came back home I had nothing,” Mr. Takashi said.
His landlord gave him a blanket and an air mattress. But the mattress leaked.
“It was like sleeping on the floor,” Fuji added.
Fortunately, an associate of Fuji’s learned of his plight and called Catholic Charities for help.
Catholic Charities Staten Island has taken a leadership role in partnering with nonprofit organizations to speed services and support to residents of this borough devastated by Hurricane Sandy. From disaster-response professionals who visit parishes to deliver information and resources, to volunteers who collect and distribute food and supplies, to neighbors checking in on neighbors, the entire Catholic Charities community responded, providing help, creating hope and rebuilding lives.
Since Mr. Takashi’s stroke left him wheelchair bound and confused, Catholic Charities Case Manager Marvin Walker visited him in his home. Mr. Walker helped Mr. Takashi apply successfully for a variety of grants and subsidies including new furniture from Project Hospitality, appliances from the Staten Island Back to Basics initiative, gift cards to cover necessities from the Siller Foundation, help paying heating bills from the federal Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP), food stamps from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and disaster recovery financial assistance from FEMA. He helped Mr. Takashi apply for Access-a-Ride, bus rides catered for persons with disabilities. And he gave Mr. Takashi food from Catholic Charities food pantries along with clothing, pots, pans, utensils and other household necessities.
Meanwhile, Catholic Charities Volunteer Services paired Fuji up with Catholic Charities Anderson Avenue Senior Director Marni Caruso. She volunteered to drive Mr. Takashi during her personal time to medical appointments and meetings with the numerous government agencies that suddenly play a large role in his life.
Fuji’s road to recovery remains long and difficult. He has progressed from wheelchair to walker to cane. Many memories remain hazy. His finances remain tight.
“I never thought I would have to depend on others,” Fuji says. “But without Catholic Charities I couldn’t have survived.”
By Alice Kenny
Nearly two years after Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee swept through New York State, families still struggled with exposed walls and wires, no running water and no heat.
The Benson family from Lake George who were recently profiled on CBS 6 Albany News spoke of their frustration, aggravation and despair – and their gratitude that relief is finally here.
Catholic Charities New York, in recognition for its success helping victims within the Archdiocese of New York recover from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, now provides disaster recovery services beyond the Hudson Valley. The Catholic Charities Disaster Case Management Program is working directly with the New York State Office of Emergency Management and partner agencies to provide ongoing case management for nearly 3,000 families spread over 34 counties from Long Island to the Canadian border.
While many short-term goals following these massive storms have been met, Catholic Charities is now focusing on helping families with long-term case management to rebuild their homes and lives.
“We’re just thankful that someone is worried about us,” Mr. Benson said.
Whether it is Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Irene, Tropical Storm Lee, Catholic Charities is here to help.
Day in and day out, Catholic Charities provides a vast range of programs and services for those struggling with long-term needs or confronting sudden disaster. Our federation of agencies offers a variety of specialized assistance designed to meet individual needs, non-Catholics and Catholics alike.
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Catholic Charities New York kicked off New York State’s coordinated disaster case management (DCM) program by offering a two-day orientation and training on January 10-11 for disaster case managers, supervisors, and other key staff. This kickoff training event was held at Cardinal Spellman Center in lower Manhattan.
More than 50 Catholic Charities New York staff members along with staff from various social service organizations including Catholic Charities Brooklyn Queens, Project Hope and BronxWorks attended.
Training topics included disaster impacts, resources available to help New Yorkers hurt by Hurricane Sandy, the role of disaster case managers, and essential steps for providing disaster case management and how to coordinate with other agencies providing DCM services. Representatives from FEMA, New York State Office of Emergency Management, Project Hope, and Catholic Charities provided feature presentations.
Ongoing trainings will be offered on a regular basis to delve deeper into the material presented in this initial training and to introduce new topics and resources as appropriate.
Catholic Charities is pulling together a team of volunteers this Saturday, January 19, to help with the physical clean up of four Staten Island homes badly destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. Tasks include removal of sheet rock & insulation, cleaning behind it and removal of flooring. Transportation will be provided.
When Mary Ferris’ husband, a New York City police officer, died of a heart attack at age 40, leaving the young widow with three children to raise, she felt stranded, alone and totally unprepared.
She relived those feelings, she said, when Hurricane Sandy tore through the white bungalow home where she had lived for 46 years. But compared with losing her life’s partner, she said, Sandy was just a bump in the road.
Yet she couldn’t help but compare the tragedies. In both cases she had done everything right. She loved her husband, treasured her children and followed experts’ advice on how to keep them healthy and happy.
And she loved her home and followed experts’ advice there as well.
“People hear about what happened to us and say ‘why did you live so close to the water?’” she says. “But I didn’t. I lived 10 blocks away yet when the hurricane hit, it was like a tsunami going through. You couldn’t outrun it.”
Fortunately, she evacuated the morning before the super storm hit. Had she stayed, she would probably be dead.
When she returned after the storm, she found her first-floor bedroom filled from floor to ceiling with water. Floating furniture barred the door.
Ignoring the stink of sewage mixed with salt water, diesel and gasoline, her children, now grown, teamed up with a nephew, brother in law and volunteers she never before met. They threw out the sodden furnishings, ripped out the walls, power washed the house and shock waved it with chemicals to destroy mold. Her home parish, St. Margaret Mary’s, gave her a small grant.
“It’s just stuff,” she says as she looks at garbage bags piled high with broken china, family photos; everything she once owned. “Some day Jesus calls you by name and you can’t bring that stuff with you. Nothing follows that hearse.”
Last weekend, staff of Project Hope accompanied Catholic Charities staff and volunteers to the Lower East Side of Manhattan to help New Yorkers who had been affected by Hurricane Sandy.
The New York State Office of Mental Health Project Hope Crisis Counseling Program was created in November to help families, individuals and groups impacted by the storm, offering free supportive counseling and public education services. Project Hope’s confidential services promote resilience, empowerment and recovery.
On Saturday, Catholic Charities and Project Hope staff visited Baruch Houses to speak with residents and leave flyers in both Spanish and English for residents who weren’t at home. They provided information on Our Lady of Sorrows Church, Catholic Charities and other resources, including immigration services. Project Hope staff were available on the spot for those who requested additional counseling.
Collaborating with Project Hope to directly reach people in their own homes is one way Catholic Charities continues to work with parishes, communities and government agencies to get Sandy survivors the help they need. Learn more about Project Hope.
If you’d like to help families and individuals still recovering, text SANDY to 85944 to make a one-time $10 donation.
By Alice Kenny
Catholic Charities staff and volunteers continue to partner with parishes and communities to assist people affected by Sandy, identifying those who still need help throughout the Archdiocese. For example, the storm presented a particular hardship for home-bound seniors on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, leaving them not only stuck in their houses but all alone as well.
This weekend, Catholic Charities staff and volunteers will go door-to-door among several especially hard-hit buildings in the neighborhood to assess the needs of residents. In addition to handing out informational flyers, volunteers will check in on individuals and determine how many seniors are in need of help or company.
With the information they learn from residents, Catholic Charities will plan new programs to meet the long-term needs of Sandy survivors.
If you would like to volunteer for one of the ongoing opportunities, sign up on our volunteer website: