Naples Parish continues to help in Panhandle recovery

The faithful of St. Agnes Parish in Naples remember well the kindness and generosity of strangers who lent a helping hand in 2017 following the devastating impacts of Hurricane Irma.

So, it was natural for the parishioners to rally together and help when Hurricane Michael struck the Florida Panhandle in October 2018. That help continues to this day.

The initial efforts included teams from the Parish making several trips with collected relief supplies, to assist in Panama City where nearly every structure in the community had major damage. Those supplies included thousands of emergency supplies collected from a Diocese of Venice initiative, then additional recovery supplies as the needs changed for those impacted.

During a period of several months, teams from St. Agnes served in relays to help transport and then distribute donated items. While the number of trips lessened as time passed, the people of Panama City were never far from the mind of the people at St. Agnes.

This is why a small group, led by Deacon Henry deMena, passed on a traditional Thanksgiving to help the Panama City offices of Catholic Charities of Northwestern Florida continue in its recovery.

During their time, the team cleaned up the property around the Catholic Charities offices as well as at St. Barnabas House, a transitional housing program for homeless families which has been closed since the storm struck. They even helped to start the Catholic Charities Christmas toys giving program.

“The people of Catholic Charities have been so busy helping others that they had never had the opportunity to clean up their own property,” Deacon deMena explained. “We cut down dead trees, cleaned up brush and mowed their lawns.”

While it’s been more than a year, the visible impacts of the storm remain apparent. Dana and Monte Hilmoe commented, “You can’t (understand) the devastation, even now, unless you see it in person.”

Before returning to Naples, the group attended Mass at St. Dominic Parish, which is where the relief supplies from St. Agnes and the Diocese of Venice were distributed. The Mass was held under a tent as the church continues to be rebuilt.

“As with Catholic Charities, St. Dominic too spent most of their efforts on the public and put their own needs second.” Deacon deMena explained.

In addition to Deacon deMena and the Hilmoe’s, the group included Paul and Heather Unsworth, as well as Rich and Lisa Dahn.

Second wave of donated items delivered to Panhandle

Staff Report – Florida Catholic


The second delivery of items donated by the faithful of the Diocese of Venice has been delivered and distributed to those recovering from the aftermath of Hurricane Michael.

Deacon Henry deMena and Paul Unsworth of St. Agnes Parish helped deliver the supplies to St. Dominic Parish in Panama City on Nov. 2. There he spent the week helping to hand out needed supplies to people who are continuing to struggle to rebuild their lives nearly a month after the storm struck the Panhandle.

“The destruction is truly indescribable,” Deacon deMena said. “The number of homes that are damaged or destroyed is amazing. Entire strip malls turned to rubble. We saw boats on their side in the middle of roads (more than three weeks after the storm); trailer homes either destroyed or lying on their sides; trees that were snapped like twigs, etc.”

The emergency supplies were the result of a Diocese-wide appeal that showed a tremendous response of donated emergency items, including water, food and cleaning supplies.

Deacon deMena and a colleague spent the week at the distribution center for food, water, personal hygiene, pet food and many other items located at St. Dominic Parish. The center operated from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and had a continuous stream of cars coming through.

“The needs are endless up there and yet everyone who came through the line were so upbeat and appreciative of what we were all doing for them,” the Deacon explained. “As the colder weather approaches people were looking for blankets since many of them are living in a partial home open to the outside.”

The distribution site is in the shadow of the Church, which had major damage. The rectory, parish hall and faith formation buildings were destroyed.

Everywhere he turned, Deacon deMena saw volunteers making a difference, working alongside Catholic Charities staff from across Florida and the nation being Jesus to the poor and downtrodden.

These students from St. John Neumann Catholic High School helped load this truck of hurricane relief supplies at the Catholic Charities Judy Sullivan Family Resource Center in Naples on Nov. 2. The supplies were delivered to the Florida Panhandle that weekend.

The first wave of supplies from the Diocese of Venice arrived in the Panhandle less than a week after Hurricane Michael struck on Oct. 10. The donations were then consolidated at the Judy Sullivan Family Resource Center of Catholic Charities in Naples.

Students from St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples helped load the truck deMena took of Panama City.

“I can’t list the many times we saw God’s hand in helping us,” Deacon deMena said of his time in Panama City. “This was a true example of how the Catholic Church works as a united front to care for ‘the least of my brothers.’”