Catholic Charities at forefront of Irma relief effort

by DioceseofVenice | October 3, 2017 12:26 pm

Will be there for long road to recovery

Bob Reddy – Florida Catholic


Isabella Gutierrez feels blessed following Hurricane Irma even though her East Naples home is damaged and lots of water got in through the roof and a broken window. Her family of five is safe.

Gutierrez even had a smile on her face when she walked out of the Ministry Center of St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Naples on Sept. 21 because Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc. has set up a Hurricane Irma Disaster Response site and was giving out food and water.

A Catholic Charities volunteer hands out food at the Ministry Center of St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Naples on Sept. 21. The site is one of 12 Hurricane Irma Disaster Response distribution points operated in the Diocese by Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc.

“We lost so much,” she explained through her big smile and a few tears. “My babies are hot because the power is out. We ran out of food and the water doesn’t work. But we are going to be ok. The people of Catholic Charities and St. Peter’s are so wonderful and generous. I don’t know what we would have done. Thank you! Thank you so much!”

Tens of thousands of families and individuals like the Gutierrez family faced a similar struggle in the wake of Hurricane Irma and the first place they turned to, because of trust and a strong faith, was the Church and Catholic Charities. The Diocese, through Catholic Charities, had set up 12 Hurricane Irma Disaster Response distribution points scattered through the most heavily impacted areas of the Diocese.

Thousands of people have visited one of the 12 Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc. Hurricane Irma Disaster Response sites including this one at St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Naples on Sept. 21.

The basics of food and water were available at each site, some from donations of individuals, families, parishes, non-profit groups and even corporations. The majority of what was distributed was in the form of FEMA Disaster Relief supplies, which included cases of bottled water and boxes of meals-ready-to-eat.

Nearly 60 FEMA supply trucks, and an unknown number of other supply vehicles, brought the basics to sites in Naples, Bonita Springs, Immokalee, LaBelle, Fort Myers, Clewiston, Moore Haven, Arcadia, Lake Placid, Sebring and Wauchula.

Students from Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers help load cars with food and water at the Catholic Charities Galeana Center on Sept. 23. The center is one of 12 Hurricane Irma Disaster Response sites set up by Catholic Charities.

According to Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc. CEO Peter Routsis-Arroyo, there are no firm figures on how many people were aided with vital necessities of food and water between Sept. 11 and Oct. 1, but he estimated that at least 75,000 individuals and families were assisted.

“It is a huge number,” Routsis-Arroyo said. “The demand was great and Catholic Charities stepped up to do what had to be done. The process of getting supplies where they were needed wasn’t all smooth because the disaster impacted such a huge area of our Diocese.”

Bishop Frank J. Dewane visits St. Leo the Great Parish Life Center in Bonita Springs on Sept. 23, a Catholic Charities Hurricane Irma Disaster Response site.

While there were 12 official Hurricane Irma Disaster Response distribution points a few other locations received supplies as the needs in some areas changed or became more apparent.

“When new needs arose, there was a call for help and the response was outstanding,” Routsis-Arroyo said. “It never ceases to amaze me about the generosity of people in times of crisis.”

Bishop Frank J. Dewane said Catholic Charities in the Diocese has been “doing a yeoman’s job in striving to get to those who are most severely impacted by the hurricane.”

Next phase

While the initial crisis has passed and the demand food and water has dropped, the work of Catholic Charities is far from over, in fact it is really just beginning.

Students from Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers help load vehicles with supplies following Hurricane Irma at Jesus the Worker Parish.

Sharon Aragona, COO of Catholic Charities, said that as people got power back and water became safe to drink again the needs of those most severely impacted by Irma are changing.

“We are past the first phase, which is responding to the immediate aftermath of this disaster,” Aragona said. “Now we need to focus on helping people rebuild their lives. This means case management and support with getting people back into their homes. Even if a family didn’t have serious damage in the storm, many had time off from work that they really could not afford. Others had damage they cannot afford to take care of, and still others needed to relocate.”

These unexpected expenses are difficult in the best of times but can be more devastating than the winds of Irma for low-income families.

While Catholic Charities will always accept donations of cleaning supplies and food such as rice, beans and cooking oil, the real need is for financial donations, Routsis-Arroyo said.

“There is no doubt about it, if someone wants to help now, and for the foreseeable future, monetary donations are desperately needed,” he said. “We are transitioning into intensive long-term disaster case management which helps people get back on their feet and has a heavier financial component. Catholic Charities will be helping people recover until there is no longer a need.”

To aid in this effort, the Disaster Services of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul-USA has set up five Parish Recovery Assistance Centers (P-RACs), in Naples, Marco Island, Fort Myers, Sebring and Bonita Springs, and they will be in operation from through Oct. 13. Irma survivors can call 888-507-2722 to get details on the P-RACs in their area.

The P-RACs are a holistic community based approach to helping families immediately after a disaster hits. Led by Rapid Response Teams, the sites have volunteers present to provide information on FEMA, Small Business Administration and other state and local disaster programs, as well as providing some aide, as well as hygiene kits, Cleanup Buckets and registering households with Crisis Cleanup for muck outs and debris removal.

The P-RACs do not replace other FEMA recovery operations, but rather compliment those services by being the initial face-to-face interaction for survivors with their community in the road to recovery.

Elizabeth Disco-Shearer, CEO of Disaster Services of SVDP-USA was present during the volunteer training session which took place at Resurrection Parish in Fort Myers on Sept. 28, and said that people will come to the P-RACs as a home away from home. “It is up to all of us to give them a spark of hope as they begin the road to recovery.”

How to Help

If you would like to make a financial donation to support the ongoing effort of Catholic Charities, please visit and click on the Donate Now button, or send a check to: Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice Inc., ATTN: Hurricane Irma Relief, 5824 Bee Ridge Road PMB 409, Sarasota, FL 34233-5065.

Needed Items

If you would like to send items of need, please chose from the list below and drop them off at regional locations. Financial contributions (such as Visa gift cards) are very welcome to be able to purchase the necessities that are not donated. No donation of clothes will be accepted.

Cleaning Supplies                                                 Food

Shock wave – mold killer                                         Rice

Sprayers – to apply Shockwave                               Beans

Mops                                                                       Cooking oil

Paper towels                                                            Maseca

Disinfecting wipes                                                  

Buckets                                                                      Baby Items

Rubber gloves                                                           Diapers & Wipes

Masks                                                                        Baby Food

Disaster Response Regional Drop-off Locations

Manatee County Charlotte County
St. Joseph Catholic Church

3100 26th Street West Bradenton, FL 34205


Sacred Heart Parish

211 West Charlotte Drive

Punta Gorda, FL 33950


Sarasota County Lee County
St. Thomas Moore Parish

2506 Gulf Gate Drive

Sarasota, FL 34231


Our Lady of Light Parish

19680 Cypress View Drive

Fort Myers, FL 33967



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