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Knights of Columbus members load cleaning supplies and other flood relief items into trucks March 30 in Columbus. The supplies were donated by the group’s national office and delivered to four areas hard hit by mid-March flooding. Pictured are, from left, Patrick Lowery, and looking toward camera, Richard Lowery, Matt Richardson, Lou Gasper, Lee Anderson and Mike Conrad. Tony Hergott/Knights of Columbus

Parishes, schools, groups aid flood victims across archdiocese

As flood victims around the archdiocese attempt to rebuild their lives, Catholic parishes, schools, organizations, Knights of Columbus councils and individual parishioners have been stepping up to lend a hand.

In areas such as St. Edward and Genoa, Bellevue, Valley and Niobrara – and many other areas around the archdiocese – hundreds of people were displaced from their homes by mid-March flooding.

St. Edward Parish in St. Edward temporarily hosted about 25 displaced people in the rectory, said Father William L’Heureux, pastor.

“As the river got wild, some homes close to the river were wiped out totally … and some homes in town were condemned,” said Father L’Heureux, who also is pastor of 

St. Rose of Lima Parish in Genoa, Ss. Peter and Paul in Krakow and St. Lawrence in Silver Creek.

“I was impressed with how the Catholics in the area, how they all pulled together and volunteered; they were the leaders at the Fire Hall providing food, and providing labor to help get the businesses and homes cleaned up,” he said.

“Without a call from the church or the pastor, they just stepped up to help – they’re just living out their faith.”

In Bellevue, St. Mary Parish joined a group of more than 40 churches, charitable organizations and governmental agencies to assist in relief efforts, said Collette Borland, business manager.

Together, they established a distribution resource center at Bellevue Christian Center where flood victims could come for various types of assistance.

That help included pastoral care, with the parish’s Stephen ministers (grief counselors) and St. Vincent de Paul Society volunteers meeting with flood victims, she said.

Many people have been in a “flood fog,” she said. So in addition to meeting physical needs, flood victims also received emotional support.

“It’s not necessarily a Catholic focus, but you meet the person where they’re at in their moment of need,” she said.

STUDENTS TAKE NOTE

In the wake of the flooding, students at Catholic schools were moved by the extent of flood victims’ needs, especially in areas where there was a personal connection.

In Elgin, students at Pope John XXIII Central Catholic Junior/Senior High School and St. Boniface Elementary School were eager to help a former Pope John XXIII teacher, Margaret Sandoz, and her current students and neighbors in heavily damaged Niobrara.

The students joined their counterparts in the Elgin Public Schools to collect personal hygiene supplies, cleaning products, diapers and other items for people in Niobrara. Several high school students and staff delivered the collected items, which nearly filled a school bus, to the town March 27.

For Sandoz, who taught for 10 years at Pope John XXIII and now teaches for Niobrara Public Schools, the concern of those at her former school for the people in her town was touching.

“I have a lot of connections and still hear from a lot of my students, so it meant a lot to me,” she said. “I’m really appreciative of the school thinking of the students here at Niobrara. It’s a beautiful Christian gesture on behalf of their school and community.”

In Omaha, students at St. Pius X/St. Leo School raised money and collected cleaning supplies to help residents in Valley, where Father Lloyd Gnirk is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish. He was formerly pastor at St. Pius X.

“I want to thank them; it was really nice of them to do that and to think of us,” Father Gnirk said. With the money “we’re helping people put their lives back together.”

The parish distributed the money to people for sump pumps, air conditioners and furnaces, water heaters, drywall and other necessary items, he said. Some of the money also went to the Valley Flood Relief Fund and the St. Vincent de Paul Society to help the community recover, he said.

ARCHDIOCESE-WIDE EFFORTS

People throughout the archdiocese also responded generously to appeals from Archbishop George J. Lucas, the Knights of Columbus and Catholic Charities.

The archbishop issued a call for parishes to take up special collections March 23 and 24, which raised more than $470,000.

And the Knights of Columbus on the local, state and national levels took up the cause to provide immediate relief, including $100 Visa gift cards for people to meet their immediate needs, said Ray Guggenberger, a St. Mary parishioner and executive secretary for the Knights’ Nebraska State Council.

With money provided by the Knights’ Supreme Council in New Haven, Connecticut, along with the Nebraska council and local councils, nearly $90,000 in gift cards has been given out in Bellevue, Columbus, Niobrara and Lynch, he said.

The Knights of Columbus also partnered with Catholic Charities to promote and facilitate parish drives to collect and distribute relief items such as packaged food and water, toiletries and hygiene items, cleaning supplies, and kitchen and home items.

One such effort, at St. Gerald Parish in Ralston, yielded more than 3,000 pounds of food to be distributed by Catholic Charities.

“It’s very humbling to be surrounded by parishioners that are so caring, that provide for people in need,” said parishioner Dave Fowler, grand knight of Council 9518.

“The generous response to the archdiocese’s flood relief is an example of what it means to live mercy,” said Deacon Tim McNeil, chancellor for the archdiocese.

“Not only are people responding with financial assistance and prayer, many are accompanying their brothers and sisters in Christ who are suffering emotionally because of loss of home and property,” he said.

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