ST Jerome Church in Fancy Farm, Kentucky, became a makeshift shelter for storm survivors over the December 11-12 weekend and shifted the next day to become a distribution site for relief supplies.Relief efforts for tornado victims show ‘church at its best’, religious sister says – The Catholic Leader
Support: Luke Vogt, left, unloads a truck filled with provisions at Redemption City Church in downtown Dawson Springs, Kentucky, after tornadoes ripped through several US states. The church building was converted into a night shelter and supply waypoint by locals looking to offer aid in the affected region. Photo: CNS
ST Jerome Church in Fancy Farm, Kentucky, became a makeshift shelter for storm survivors over the December 11-12 weekend and shifted the next day to become a distribution site for relief supplies.
Four tornadoes, including one that carved a 350km-long path through four states, struck devastating blows to western Kentucky overnight on December 10. The twisters left whole communities in shambles.
Mayfield and Dawson Springs, Kentucky, were all but destroyed by the storms. Catholic churches in both towns suffered heavy damage.
At least 74 people were confirmed dead in the Bluegrass State, according to Governor Andy Beshear. Search and rescue efforts were still underway.
Twelve miles from Mayfield, St Jerome has responded with the spirit of Gaudete Sunday, Sister Martha Keller, an Ursuline Sister of Mount St Joseph, Kentucky, who is pastoral associate of St Jerome, said.
“This is church at its best,” she said, speaking through tears after recounting the losses people have suffered.
“People are talking about Christmas and what we can do. But this is church at its best.
“This weekend was Gaudete Sunday. We can rejoice because there are people being Christ for each other.”
Gaudete Sunday is the third Sunday of Advent; “gaudete” means rejoice.
Early December 11, the morning after the tornadoes hit, the parish hall began housing families who survived the storms but who lost their homes - a total of 25 people.
They arrived with nothing but the clothes they were wearing – clothes that were soaking wet.
“They changed into clean clothes and we washed the clothes they had,” she said.
Beyond that, “there are heart-wrenching stories.”
“Saturday afternoon, there was this mother (in the shelter) who looked upset and I sat down and said, ‘What can I do?’ I thought she might be thinking about her next steps,” Sr Keller said.
“She said, ‘I can’t even concentrate. My best friend lost her three-year-old daughter in the storm’.
“Some volunteers went down the road yesterday and they went into a mobile home and found two elderly people huddled together who were dead. A woman was found in a tree.
“We have had parishioners outside Fancy Farm who lost their homes. They were in their basement.
“We have been running by the seat of our pants waiting for the Red Cross and FEMA to give us direction,” she said.
FEMA is the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Sr Keller said St. Jerome, located in Graves County, received direction from the American Red Cross.
The parish hall, ill-suited to provide long-term shelter, is shifting to a distribution site for supplies.
She said people were most in need of money, particularly in the form of Visa gift cards that can be used anywhere.
“We’ve been trying to get Visa cards so they can get gas, hotels, clothes. They don’t want donated clothes because we don’t know sizes” and getting the right sizes to the right people would not be feasible, she said.
Another need, access to clean water, is being addressed for the long term by Louisville-based Water with Blessings.
The charity has sent 20 Sawyer PointOne water filters to St Jerome. The filters can be distributed to families or groups for sharing access to clean water.