Coronavirus keeps volunteers away, but Arkansas Catholic Charities plans help for tornado victims

Coronavirus keeps volunteers away, but Arkansas Catholic Charities plans help for tornado victims

Credit: Daniel Rodriguez Global Panorama via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).
Credit: Daniel Rodriguez Global Panorama via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

.- An EF3 tornado blew through Jonesboro, Arkansas, this week, and although no deaths have been reported, Catholic Charities of Arkansas is gearing up to help those whose livelihoods will be affected by the disaster.

Patrick Gallaher, director of Catholic Charities of Arkansas, told CNA that he anticipates that their involvement with the disaster in Jonesboro will involve long term case management to help uninsured and underinsured families recover and settle into permanent housing.

Typically, with a tornado like this, Catholic Charities will work with Habitat for Humanity to help get underinsured people into a Habitat for Humanity house, he said.

“We have been in contact with the parish in Jonesboro, Blessed Sacrament Church, and with their local Society of St. Vincent de Paul Council, but have not received any reports of damage or need at this moment. Once we begin receiving information from Jonesboro, we will be able to craft a response to meet the specific needs,” Gallaher said.

The tornado damaged nearly 200 structures, including several factories. Governor Asa Hutchinson has declared a state disaster and the state is seeking a federal designation from the national government.

Though Catholic Charities of Arkansas is not part of the immediate emergency response, Gallaher clarified, first responders in the county, with state assistance, have set up an emergency shelter with care being taken not to spread the coronavirus (COVID-19).

Craigshead County, where Jonesboro is located, has eight confirmed COVID-19 cases. The state as a whole has around 500.

Gallaher said the main difficulties in helping victims of the tornado is a lack of volunteers and funds amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"Most of my volunteers, my disaster volunteers, are elderly people. And I wasn't even going to call them, I don't want to take a chance," Gallaher told CNA.

He also noted that fundraising has been made more difficult by the suspension of public Masses in the Diocese of Little Rock.

About three percent of the state's population is undocumented immigrants, who will not be eligible for federal or state unemployment assistance, Gallaher said. With Jonesboro as a manufacturing hub, and much of the city's factory capacity destroyed, Gallaher said he expects Catholic Charities will likely start receiving requests for assistance with food.

“I expect that as the protocols put in place to contain the epidemic continue, we will be hearing from families unable to meet their daily needs because of lack of employment. Although the federal and state response regarding unemployment insurance and direct payments will help most, there will be a segment of our population that is ineligible and will need assistance,” Gallaher said.

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