Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 1453, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Catholic Charities responds to severe wind damage; amid the suffering, good will

from Catholic Charities Spokane

(From the December 17, 2015 edition of the Inland Register)

Fallen trees, disruptions to the power supply, and other challenges faced the Inland Northwest as a result of severe November wind storms. (IR photo by Frank Knapp, courtesy of Catholic Charities)

Unfortunately, disaster relief is becoming an all-too-familiar theme in reports from Catholic Charities Spokane.

It was just a few weeks ago that the agency deployed people and supplies in answer to Eastern Washington’s most devastating wildfire season ever. And now, Windstorm 2015. When the storm hit, Catholic Charities was ready, willing and able.

Avista Utilities called it the worst natural disaster in their 126-year history. The South Hill of Spokane was referred to as “ground-zero” in national media releases. Over 200,000 customers were without power for as many as eight days. The entire city began to feel vulnerable and the stress was palpable throughout the community.

The people we serve daily already live on the margins, vulnerable from poverty, mental illness, disability, and ailments due to aging. Most of our clients don’t have a network of family and friends to call on. They rely on Catholic Charities in their time of need. When the windstorm hit, the entire community experienced in some small (or large) way what it was like to be vulnerable, at-risk, and unsure of what was coming next. We all walked a few paces in the shoes of the many Catholic Charities clients in the Diocese of Spokane.

Catholic Charities immediately made plans to open the House of Charity and St. Margaret Shelter in an “emergency overflow capacity,” meaning the doors were opened to more patrons than the fire code would usually allow. With the approval of the City of Spokane, Catholic Charities welcomed extra people into every available space in both shelters, including on the floors and in offices so that they could take cover from the storm conditions. The agency staffed its phones evenings and weekends, seven days a week in order to take requests from those in need as well as those who wanted to volunteer. The Catholic Charities headquarters building became a location where over 300 staff were given a place to shower, charge their cell phones, and get online.

In the aftermath, when it became evident that the recovery would be long and arduous, Catholic Charities worked with the city to open yet another larger shelter at The Northeast Community Center. St. Anne’s Children and Family Center opened its doors to more children so that parents could return to work while school doors were closed. St. Anne staff also deployed to Sacred Heart Medical Center to help with their childcare needs so that doctors and nurses with children out of school could work their shifts.

Staff went door-to-door at all in-town senior and disabled housing properties the night of the storm to do wellness checks on seniors, disabled and other fragile people who were suddenly in the dark or sitting on the 15th floor of buildings with no working elevators. Hundreds of doors were knocked on in just that first night alone. Senior Services staff later went to check on hundreds more shut-in elderly and disabled clients throughout the community. The House of Charity fed additional masses of people during this timeframe, and trucks were sent to local stores without power to salvage and store food in the House of Charity freezer for future use.

Tragedy and disaster always have two sides: suffering and goodwill. The Catholic Charities community never ceases to amaze in the multitude of ways it displays goodwill, caring, support, and compassion. The phone rings over and over again with people saying “How can I help?” and donations are offered from organizations and individuals who trust us to serve those who need it most. In the words of Catholic Charities’ Executive Director, Rob McCann, “Catholic Charities is honored to be one of the first called on by the city and other organizations to take the lead and organize efforts to ease the burden of others during crisis.”

When word spread the day after Thanksgiving that the last customer had their power restored, the team at Catholic Charities breathed a collective sigh of relief. However, it only takes a short drive in any part of town to see the remains of the destruction and the ongoing cleanup efforts. This event will not soon fade from memory. The prayer is that the rest of this winter progresses with only its usual challenges – cold, snow, ice – but when and if Catholic Charities is needed to respond again, the agency will be here, ready to serve.

(Lisa Simpson of Catholic Charities Spokane contributed to this report.)

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