Catholic Charities responds to Irma with compassion, water and food Print this post

Bob Reddy – Florida Catholic


In the days before Hurricane Irma struck Southwest Florida, Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc. was preparing for the worst, making plans to mobilize as soon as the storm clouds cleared.

Much needed supplies of food and water were being distributed at 11 Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc. disaster response distribution site including this one at Guadlaupe Social Services in Immokalee.

Since that time, Catholic Charities has set up 12 Hurricane Irma Disaster Response distribution points helping to bring water, food and aid to those who need it the most in Fort Myers, Arcadia, Moore Haven, Clewiston, Sebring, Wauchula, Naples, Immokalee, Bonita Springs and Lake Placid. Additional unofficial distribution points have opened on the need has increased in the interior and poorest areas of the Diocese where power was not expected to return in some areas until the end of September.

At the Elizabeth K. Galeana Center on Michigan Avenue Link in Fort Myers there has been a steady stream of cars coming through the parking lot since the Tuesday after the storm.

“There is such great need here,” explained Chuck Anderson, District Director for Lee, Glades and Hendry counties. “The people who could least afford to lose power and subsequently lose work because of the storm, are really struggling. It is great that we can be here to help.”

Cars line up to receive food from FEMA at the Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice offices on Michigan Avenue Link in Fort Myers in the wake of Hurricane Irma.

Within the first few days the on-hand supplies of emergency food and water were exhausted and the Harry Chapin Food Bank in Fort Myers made emergency deliveries. It wasn’t until Sept. 14 when the long-awaited trucks from FEMA arrived in Fort Myers and at the other distribution points.

“We were getting low on supplies but now we can help everyone without rationing,” Anderson said as he watched members of the Florida National Guard and Fort Myers Police Department help control the flow of traffic.

As each car arrived, shouts of “thank you” and “do you have ice” could be heard from the grateful people. “We helped a few hundred the first day and have doubled since the FEMA supplies are here,” Anderson said. “We will keep going as long as there is a need.”

The faithful of Jesus the Worker Parish in Fort Myers stack boxes of food and water organized by Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc. through FEMA that is for needy families in the wake of Hurricane Irma.

Bishop Verot Catholic High School sent a group of students to help at the Galeana Center and members of the Knights of Columbus were helping at several different locations throughout the Diocese. Several Knights groups even brought hot meals with them to serve to those in need.

The scene in Fort Myers was repeated at many of the distribution points. The need grew as the length of time without power and anything open for many miles put a stress on the poor. Even when power returned, drinking water was often unsafe. Volunteers, many of whom also had damage and had their own suffering, were out in full force. Access to gasoline and other necessities was making a very difficult situation harder for people. Even as some power returned, many were still out of work with no idea when or if their job would be there.

Much needed supplies of food and water were being distributed at 11 Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc. disaster response distribution site including this one at Guadlaupe Social Services in Immokalee.

River flooding of low-lying areas and standing water has made travel difficult and there is a concern about the local crops. Early estimates say that more than a quater of the state’s citrus crop is lost, and growers are now worried about storm damage and lingering flooding impacting other crops such as vegetables and sugar cane that provide crucial work for many in the region.

Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice CEO Peter Routsis-Arroyo, who has been on the go nearly non-stop before and after the storm, is coordinating deliveries of supplies from FEMA. After a few early misunderstandings, the flow became steady and more coordinated. “We had 17 trucks show up at one site, when they were supposed to be at nine different sites. It eventually worked out and it has taken some time to smooth everything out.”

To help fill the gaps, Routsis-Arroyo has been driving around the Diocese to various sites with a box truck full of water and meals-ready-to-eat which were on-hand as part of the Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Disaster Plan.

As late as Sept. 15, Routsis-Arroyo had to respond to a desperate plea for help in LaBelle near Our Lady of Queen of Heaven Parish. A farming community there was destroyed and being just off the main road had been bypassed by most relief efforts. A call was made and the relief supplies arrived within a few hours.

“The first few days after a disaster are always the hardest,” he said. “Catholic Charities was there and open after the storm and we will be there a few weeks from and now and even a few months from now as people struggle to rebuild.”

“The impacts from Irma are not going to be over until everyone gets their power back,” Routsis-Arroyo explained. “Catholic Charities will be there for the long term.”

Because of the long-term need, Bishop Frank J. Dewane and Catholic Charities sent out a plea to the faithful and parishes across the Diocese to connect with a distribution point and to help augment the supplies coming in. While food and water are in urgent need now, there is a steady supply coming in. The need will transition to other necessities such as canned goods, rice, beans, cereal, pasta, oil and household cleaning supplies.

There is also going to be a great financial need, with assistance to help people pay for rent or utility bills while out of work and much more and even gift cards to help buy lost clothes and other items.

Those interested in supporting can do so online at, or send a check to Hurricane Irma Recovery to: Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., 5824 Bee Ridge Road PMB 409, Sarasota, FL 34233-5065. Or call 941-488-5581.




Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc. in DeSoto County
1210 East Oak St., Arcadia, FL 34266
Office Phone: 863-494-1068
Contact Persons:  Sister Ann DeNicolo and Andy Herigodt

Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc. In Bonita Springs
St. Leo the Great Parish

28290 Beaumont Road, Bonita Springs, FL 34134

Office Phone: 239-390-2928         

Contact Person: Chuck Anderson



Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc. in Clewiston
St. Margaret Parish
208 North Deane Duff Ave., Clewiston, FL 33440-3135 
Office Phone:  863-983-8585
Contact Person:  Father Jiobani Batista

Jesus the Worker Parish
881 Nuna Ave., Fort Myers, FL 33905
Office Phone: 239-693-5333 (alt) 239-693-0640
Contact Person: Father Patrick T. O’Connor OSFS
Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc. in Fort Myers
4235 Michigan Ave. Link, Fort Myers, FL  33916
Office Phone: 239-337-4193
Contact Person: Charles Anderson

Guadalupe Social Services of Catholic Charities
211 S. 9th St., Immokalee, FL  34142
Office Phone: 239- 657-6242
Contact: Peggy Rodriguez

St. Joseph the Worker Parish
24065 U.S. Hwy 27, Moore Haven, FL 33471
Office Phone: 863-946-0696
Contact Person: Father Marcial Garcia

Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc. in Collier County

2210 Santa Barbara Blvd., Naples, FL 34116
Office Phone: 239-455-2655

Contact Person: Mary Shaughnessy


St. Peter the Apostle Parish

5130 Rattlesnake Hammock Road, Naples FL 34113

Office Phone: 239-774-3337

Contact Person: Father Gerard Critch

St. Michael Parish

408 Heard Bridge Road, Wauchula, FL 33873
Office Phone: 863-773-4089

Contact Person:  Sister Gema Ruiz, SSVM



Holy Family Youth Center

900 US Highway 27, N., Sebring, FL  33870

Office Phone: 863-385-0049

Contact Person:  Father Jose Gonzalez



Camp San Jose

170 Sun n’ Lake Blvd., Lake Placid, FL  33852

Office Phone: 863-385-0049

Contact Person:  Father Jose Gonzalez


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