Helping brothers and sisters in Christ

by DioceseofVenice | October 3, 2017 12:33 pm

Bob Reddy – Florida Catholic


In the weeks since Hurricane Irma disrupted the lives of so many in the Diocese of Venice, the outpouring of support for those in desperate need has been inspiring. Countless people have donated food, water and more, delivering it to the most devastated areas of the Diocese. People helping their brothers and sisters in Christ.

None sought recognition, but instead simply asked “what else can I do to help?”

Members of the Knights of Columbus serve food at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Immokalee on Sept. 23 in an area heavily impacted by Hurricane Irma.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane said he was impressed when he personally saw many volunteers at Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc. Hurricane Irma Disaster Response sites where food and water was handed out. Offering prayers and words of encouragement, he saw the carloads of people need helping, but also there were car and truckloads of donations of water, non-perishable food and toiletries, coming in from anonymous donors to augment what was available.

This load of supplies from Our Lady of the Angels Parish in Lakewood Ranch was collected following Hurricane Irma and sent to St. Michael Parish in Wauchula.

“The people I saw coming to those Recovery Sites were in real need,” Bishop Dewane said. “There were young children who you know were struggling. In this context people know they are needed and come out to help. That was encouraging to see and bespeaks of who we are as Catholics, helping our brothers and sisters in need.”

Knights reach out

Groups such as the Knights of Columbus helped deliver supplies to needed locations and several councils brought their mobile barbeques and set up shop cooking hot meals.

The faithful of Jesus the Worker Parish in Fort Myers line up for food cooked by the Knights of Columbus on the weekend of Sept. 16-17 following Hurricane Irma.

The Knights from St. Katharine Drexel and St. Andrew Parishes in Cape Coral spent one weekend serving more than 1,500 meals at Jesus the Worker Parish in Fort Myers, then repeated the feat the following weekend at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Immokalee.

The St. Agnes Parish Knights in Naples also brought hot food to nearby parishes, including St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in Golden Gate and to St. Peter the Apostle Parish in East Naples. Other Knights distributed 800 meals for needy people at St. Raphael Parish in Lehigh Acres and Knights at St. Columbkille Parish in Fort Myers serve hot meals as well.

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

“The Knights were everywhere,” explained Catholic Charities CEO Peter Routsis-Arroyo. “They answered calls for supplies and for transporting goods to places that needed it. They really stepped up when we needed it the most.”

Moving forward, the Knights of Columbus will be transporting donations dropped off at four centralized locations and distributing to areas of greatest need.

Parishes doing good close to home and far away

The response to the aftermath of Hurricane Irma has been particularly vivid at the parish level as many served as Catholic Charities Disaster Response distribution sites. Several parishes also helped their own parishioners, being a central gathering site for spiritual as well as hurricane relief or by being a collection point and sending what was collected out into the local community or the Diocese.

Hot food donated to St. Michael Parish in Wauchula following Hurricane Irma is distributed at the parish and at missions in Bowling Green and Zolfo Springs.

At St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Naples, which had only minor damage, the volume of people coming into the disaster response site was overwhelming at times. The demand was so high, and the FEMA aid coming in slow at the beginning of the crisis, the donations of everyday people made the difference. Parishioners who had no damage either volunteered or brought in supplies. As more got power back, more donated items.

“This has been so incredible,” said St. Peter Pastor Father John Critch. “We are one of the hardest hit areas and everyone is going out of their way to help. It is a reflection on who we are at St. Peter’s.”

Heavy damage to many buildings at St. John the Evangelist Parish in North Naples did nothing to deter the faithful to reach out to do whatever they could. Each day as more donations came in, truckloads were sent out to either St. Peter the Apostle or Guadalupe Social Services of Catholic Charities in Immokalee and help restock the St. Vincent de Paul Society food bank stores.

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 people of St. John’s are living out our mission which is to serve Lord by serving others,” Pastor Father John Ludden said.

St. Cecilia Parish in Fort Myers was spared major damage but has been a focal point of helping send relief supplies to the needy throughout Lee County for two weeks. 

Nearby Resurrection Parish filled a trailer, a van and a truck with supplies as well as being the conduit for Operation Barbeque Relief to ship 1,500 meals to St. Michael Parish in Wauchula. There the food was served at the parish and the missions in Zolfo Springs and Bowling Green.  The Resurrection faithful then did relief supply deliveries to Clewiston, Sebring and Moore Haven.

Parishes in areas that were not as impacted by Irma did their part with massive second collections and food drives to support the different Catholic Charities distribution sites and parishes which serve poorer parts of the Diocese.

Rallying help

In the aftermath of the storm, the need was massive and visible everywhere. In that process, not all areas were able to get relief supplies quickly but the needs only increased. One such instance was the response by scattered people who came together to help when the call came.

Students from Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School in Venice help fill a truck of Hurricane Irma relief supplies collected during the week of Sept. 18-22. More than 1,000 items were collected and sent to the needed in Immokalee.

Diocese of Venice Director of Religious Education Ashley Fox received an urgent call from St. Michael Parish in Wauchula of a need for food. FEMA delivery trucks had been ordered but there was no ETA for when any might arrive.

As Fox was trying to figure out how to help, it became evident that there was a growing need in Avon Park, Lake Placid and Sebring. Fox was tasked to organize the parish DREs from across the Diocese to help.

“I got the word out to my DRE’s and there was an incredible response,” she explained. “Many parishes from all over the Diocese wanted to feed Wauchula and Avon Park.  Collections started coming in from Fort Myers, Naples, Bradenton and Sarasota.”

With an urgent need, Fox reached out to the people of Venice. A restaurant – “Made in Italy” – sent out a social media request and the response was food and water arriving all the next day. A truck from Wauchula picked up the food and water and the crisis passed, but the need did not.

As the week progressed, the supplies from across the Diocese were shared in Lake Placid, Sebring and Avon Park.

“The incredible generosity I witnessed was undeniably one of the most Christian acts I have ever seen from a community,” Fox said.

That generosity has been repeated over and over throughout the Diocese, by parishes, families and individuals all lending their support in ways great and small for their brothers and sisters in Christ.

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