PONCHATOULA, Louisiana, SEPT. 8, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Thirty miles northwest of New Orleans, St. Joseph’s Parish has swelled in the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation.
Dominican Father Justin Kauchak, who normally leads a parish of 1,500 families, now is trying to serve the needs of an extra 500 families who are homeless and jobless after last week’s hurricane left New Orleans flooded.
“Besides a lot of prayers for the displaced and for those ministering to them, our immediate needs include adequate housing, clothing and jobs, money for gas, uniforms for the kids going to schools here — both parochial and public — and school supplies,” said Father Kauchak in an e-mail interview with ZENIT.
Father Kauchak said he is also trying to fit 100 additional children from New Orleans into his parish school and is not sure how he will accommodate them.
Before Katrina hit, St. Joseph’s Parish had its own challenges. According to Father Kauchak, it had “probably the highest level of poverty in Louisiana — the people in the northern part of my parish are poor in the true sense of the word.”
Still, he said that the local response to the evacuees has been inspiring.
“We have had a tremendous outpouring of volunteers cooperating in an interfaith effort to distribute food, water and ready-to-eat meals to those in need throughout the area,” the Dominican said. “Our school staff has extended itself and embraced the new children with a loving welcome.
“Parishioners have helped many whose houses were damaged by fallen trees. And realtors have worked tirelessly to find adequate housing for the many coming into our area.”
One group offering aid is Catholic World Mission, which typically helps the poor in Latin America.
Kenneth Davison, executive director of the Connecticut-based group, has already been in contact with Father Kauchak in assessing the parish’s future needs.
“The issue for this parish is long-term support of the people — there are no jobs,” Davison said. “People are scattered all over the countryside right now, but they are going to start coming back.”
“Restoring electric power doesn’t allow your livelihood to come back either — the businesses and the market are devastated,” he added. “Lost income and the inability to make it up will be the long-term effect on the refugees.”
Catholic World Mission has one school in Atlanta, but this is the first time its disaster relief model — used often in Latin America after hurricanes and earthquakes — will be implemented in the United States.
“When the survivors have survived and the focus goes elsewhere, that’s when the help is needed,” Davison said. “They need to not just rebuild, but uplift.”
Typically, Catholic World Mission sponsors projects such as expanding and building schools and shelters. “Mainly, Father Kauchak will need money to distribute accordingly as the long-term effects play out,” Davison said.
Father Kauchak already is anticipating some of those long-term needs.
“We can use cash to buy needed supplies locally for kids in the schools,” the priest said. “We can use food for those who will continue to be without because of lack of funds and transportation; and we need building supplies for repairs and new home construction.”
Catholic World Mission plans to collect donations and distribute them to St. Joseph’s Parish and other communities recovering from Hurricane Katrina.
Donations also may be sent to:
Father Justin Kauchak, OP
c/o St. Joseph’s Parish
330 West Pine Street
Ponchatoula, LA 70454