NEW HAVEN – When storm Sandy struck Connecticut in late October, Catholic Charities stood at the ready to assist victims of the storm with disaster relief efforts including emergency food and shelter.
Officials at the centers in the coastal towns of New Haven and Milford said that most of their initial assistance went to replenish food banks in Meriden and East Haven.
"We coordinated a drive through Centro San Jose in Fair Haven to replenish food, nonperishable items, cleaning supplies, batteries, battery-operated radios, diapers and baby wipes for distribution through the East Haven Food Bank," said Peter O’Donnell, director of fund development for Catholic Charities.
He noted that Catholic Charities works through local offices, centers and parishes to provide basic human needs, rental support, counseling services or referrals to other types of resources as requested by parishioners. A complete listing of the Catholic Charities offices and family centers in the archdiocese may be found online at ccaoh.org/locations.html.
Among the victims of Sandy was St. Gabriel Parish in Milford, where the 16-foot storm surge that hit the coastline at around midnight broke through a cement patio, spilling two to three feet of water into the first floor of the beachfront rectory; flooded the church basement with five to six feet of water that destroyed the furnace; and damaged the exterior of a newly built garage.
Father Maurice Maroney, pastor of the parish for the past 16 years, said he had boarded up the rectory and left the parish by noon on Oct. 29 to stay with a cousin in Stratford after police came through to evacuate the area.
But when his secretary called the next morning with the devastating news, he was in a state of disbelief.
Water in the rectory destroyed belongings including pieces of furniture that were found floating through the rooms of the first floor.
"I thought we were prepared," he said. "We had just gone through Hurricane Irene in August of last year that took off the front porch; but we didn’t get a drop of water in the rectory."
To heat the church in the following weeks, the parish rented large portable heaters to blow heat through large hoses into the building through openings made by removing some of the church’s stained glass windows.
Since Irene, the parish purchased a new furnace for the church, which now is installed; built a new garage that was finished only two months ago; and recently purchased a set of steps for the rectory. All were destroyed or damaged by Sandy.
"It’s awful to see your belongings thrown away, and it’s been exhausting to come here every day to help with the clean-up," said Father Maroney. "But when I think of all the families with children who’ve been disrupted or have lost their homes, it doesn’t compare."
Father Maroney said parish records such as baptismal and marriage certificates were not damaged; all are housed in an office in the parish center.
Anyone needing help with relief from the hurricane can contact Catholic Charities through local offices. Small grants are also available to parishioners in the archdiocese who have fallen on hard times through the Emergency Assistance Fund, an initiative of the Archbishop’s Annual Appeal.