Catholic organizations in Florida marshaling aid for Dorian victims

September 6, 2019

By Catholic News Service

In the wake of Hurricane Dorian’s brutal blasting of the Bahamas, Catholic organizations in Florida continue to raise funds to aid victims there.

The best aid from individual Catholics is monetary donations. Money can be used to buy supplies in bulk and get them delivered promptly, and to reboot the local economy, enabling communities to start getting back on their feet. Money also ensures the items sent are actually the items needed – not just immediately after the disaster, but months later, when recovery is ongoing.

A man walks amid the rubble of destroyed homes Sept. 6, 2019, after Hurricane Dorian hit the Abaco Islands in Marsh Harbour, Bahamas. (CNS photo/Marco Bello, Reuters)

“It’s the agencies that are on the ground providing help; they really know what is needed. So it’s best to give them the resources so they can purchase locally what is needed. It helps to get businesses back up and running locally,” Peter Routsis-Arroyo, director of the Archdiocese of Miami’s Catholic Charities, told the Florida Catholic, Miami’s archdiocesan newspaper.

Arroyo noted the “tremendous amount of manpower” and agency funds required to organize, pack and ship donated items. “If we had just turned that money over to them, there’s none of those costs involved in that,” he said.

Not to mention that some items may only be needed for the first few days.

“Maybe they need MREs (meals ready to eat) for the first two days, but that’s it,” he said. Other needs will arise as reconstruction begins, Arroyo added.

The Catholic Church has a distinct advantage, though, when disaster strikes anywhere: an interconnected network of churches and agencies with deep roots and deep knowledge of the affected communities.

“We’ve been in constant contact with Archbishop Pinder,” Routsis-Arroyo said, adding that what he’s dealing with “is overwhelming.”

“He sends us a list of what he needs, and it’s easier for us to collect monies, purchase in bulk, not have to pay taxes or anything. And then we have friends of the agency who will ship it for free to him. And then he knows how to get it to whoever he knows on his end,” Routsis-Arroyo said.

Normally, relief work in a foreign country is done by the U.S. bishops’ overseas agency, Catholic Relief Services. But Routsis-Arroyo explained that CRS doesn’t have any offices in the Bahamas “so they work with the archbishop and the local Caritas,” which is part of the international network of agencies under the umbrella of Caritas Internationalis

When Dorian slammed into the Bahamas, Knights of Columbus of Florida went into action.

The first order of business: texting with a fellow Knight of Columbus by the name of Patrick Pinder.

“We are in touch with Archbishop Pinder of Nassau by text,” said Ronald Winn, a resident of Pensacola and state disaster response chairman for the Knights of Columbus.

The Knights’ Florida Council has had a long relationship with the Knights in the Bahamas, which is considered part of the Florida jurisdiction. When Dorian hit the Bahamas, the texts between the archbishop and the Knights in Florida were traded back and forth.

Winn was prepared to respond to the bishop and his people. Since, July 1, the Knights have stepped up service efforts with their new Disaster Response Program. Once Dorian made landfall in the Bahamas, the organization developed a fundraising campaign posting information about it on their state and supreme council websites.

“Things change day by day. … We are waiting until the airports are safe and in good working order to receive aircraft safely,” Winn told the Florida Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of West Palm Beach. He added that some Knights have offered to navigate their own boats to the Bahamas to deliver items.

The Knights’ disaster response program arose following the destruction Hurricane Harvey wrought in Houston in 2017.

Catholic Charities in the Diocese of St. Augustine is part of the statewide network that is assisting people in the Bahamas and throughout Florida. To learn how you can help, email Anita Hassell at ahassell@ccbdosa.org or call (904) 899-5506.

Contributing to this story was Ana Rodriguez-Soto in Miami and Linda Reeves in Boynton Beach.

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