Catholic Charities tackles disaster response

This farm field near Oakville was flooded during the 2008 floods. The Diocese of Davenport added disaster preparation/assistance under Catholic Charities last year.

By Anne Marie Amacher

(The Catholic Messenger is highlighting various programs and ministries offered through the Diocese of Davenport’s Catholic Charities. This is the second in a series of stories.)

When devastating floods hit parts of the Diocese of Davenport in 2008, the diocese had a manual to assist schools and parishes with preparation for disasters. But no plan existed for responding to individuals impacted by a disaster.

During and after the floods, donations were sent to the diocese to help people, but there was no mechanism to distribute it, said Glenn Leach, a volunteer in the social action and immigration offices for the Davenport Diocese.


Catholic Charities had not yet been re-established in the diocese. So Leach met with members of Catholic Charities USA and Catholic Charities of Oklahoma City for guidance. “We needed to sit down with folks and come up with a response to this need,” Leach said.

That meant going out into the communities affected by the flooding. “You need to combine your resources and reach out to others even more (when there is a disaster),” Leach said.

A standard response for many groups that receive contributions is to take the money collected and divide it by the number of people who apply for help by a certain date. “That’s nice, but it doesn’t help assure the money will be spent for the purposes we hoped for,” Leach added.

Catholic Charities disaster response personnel showed him and others “the ropes” to working with local Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters (VOADS). VOADS hired case workers to integrate people’s needs with donated cash, building materials and appliances and labor.

VOADS work with state and federal agencies, local non-profits and religious groups to tailor individual recovery plans for each family and make the best of available resources. Efforts also are made to ensure no one receives duplicate benefits or benefits they are not qualified to receive.

Since the 2008 floods, disaster response and preparedness planning has continued in the diocese. And disaster response was added to the re-established Catholic Charities in July 2010.

Leach said he continues to learn from others how to prepare for and respond to disasters.

The diocese continually updates its disaster preparedness manual for parishes, schools and diocesan entities. It also is available on the diocesan website

“I suggest families make a disaster plan too,” Leach said.

He will continue to meet with groups and attend meetings to establish VOADS in counties across the diocese and offer whatever assistance he can in preparing for disasters.

The Davenport Diocese’s efforts have not gone unnoticed.

Other Catholic Charities and organizations have contacted Leach to find out more about the diocese’s disaster preparation, said Kent Ferris, director of the Davenport Diocese’s social action department and Catholic Charities.

In addition, the diocese’s pandemic plan has been nationally recognized.  The plan was developed by Deacon Frank Agnoli and Deacon David Montgomery.

It’s rewarding when you have someone ready to help someone who is in need,” Leach said.

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