Catholic Charities workers from South Carolina are playing an important role in helping Florida communities ravaged by Hurricane Irma begin the recovery process.
Four staff members spent almost two weeks in South Florida recently, including Kelly Kaminski, director of disaster services; Brantli Senn, disaster program manager; and disaster case managers Brittany Soward and Sherry Starrs.
They were sent in response to an SOS from Catholic Charities USA in South Florida, said Deacon Dan Powers, executive director for the agency in the Diocese of Charleston.
“The disaster recovery team in South Carolina is probably one of the best in the country,” he said. “Kelly Kaminski leads a great team that has been working on recovery since the 2015 floods and Hurricane Matthew in 2016, so they have a lot of experience.”
Kaminski said the workers are currently assisting with Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Palm Beach, which covers five counties in South Florida.
They spent the first several days collaborating on a strategic plan to help local victims. Then, Kaminski said the workers held five community events to help determine what residents needed. Translators who spoke Spanish and Creole were on hand to assist the area’s diverse population, which includes a large number of Hispanic and Haitian residents.
“We conducted more than 200 assessments and discovered that the largest unmet needs were basic needs including food and water,” Kaminski said. “There also were some people with intermediate needs such as rent and utility assistance, and temporary housing for the displaced.”
She said Palm Beach County was the hardest hit in the area, and most of the people they are assisting live inland or in rural areas, where many were affected by heavy rains but do not have flood insurance.
From Oct. 3-6 the agency hosted community outreach events at four parishes in the cities of Fort Pierce, Pahokee and Belle Glade. Kaminski said they helped assess residents’ needs, distribute food and water, and assist people with scheduling appointments for further assistance.
She said Irma’s effect on Florida is by far the largest disaster the team has been involved with. As of Oct. 3, 93,000 people had registered claims with FEMA in Palm Beach County alone, and nearly 2 million people had registered with FEMA statewide.
The agency workers returned home on Oct. 6, but Kaminski said she will likely head back to Florida within a week to continue the relief efforts. She said Catholic Charities will also assist thousands of Puerto Rican victims of Hurricane Maria, who are scheduled to start arriving in Florida in the near future.
Photo provided: A homeowner in South Florida propped a sign in front of their house as Hurricane Irma approached.