Missouri River floods and Catholic Charities steps up

Levee break in southern Buchanan County, near Catholic Charities’ St. Joseph office. (photo courtesy of Catholic Charities)

By Ellen Petersen
Catholic Charities

ST. JOSEPH — Fifty levees destroyed over 350-miles. Billions of dollars in agricultural losses. The Missouri River did more than just flood. It wreaked havoc in the lives of thousands, destroying homes, businesses and churches.

Four weeks later and these people are still displaced, without any indication as to when they can return home.

Josie, a student of a nearby community college, is forced to stay in a run-down motel with WiFi, just so she can stay on top of her homework.

Mark, a businessman, spends an additional 3 hours in the car each day, commuting back and forth to work because he can’t afford to miss it.

Lori, a single mother of four, feels desperate as she begins to wear out her welcome, living in her cousin’s house.

Richard, a farmer, is anxious to set foot in his 200-acre fields again, only to sink waist deep in mud.

The worst part is now waiting for the waters to recede, which could take days, weeks, months.

Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph immediately gathered plans to assist in the relief efforts. After contacting emergency managers in the affected counties, we purchased Casey’s, Dollar General and Hy-Vee emergency assistance gift cards for the survivors using funds from Catholic Charities USA.

Upon meeting with the affected, we quickly realized that an alarming 80 percent of those with flooding did not carry flood insurance. Understandably, no one foresaw such devastation. It seemed improbable that anything could come close to rivaling the floods of 1993, yet here we are, breaking records 26 years later.

The recovery process will be a long one. Once the water recedes, which could be a while, given the rain and continually melting snow in the North, the Red Cross will conduct a damage assessment and begin rebuilding.

Team members at Catholic Charities will begin funneling in local volunteers and national relief groups who can assist in the mucking out process and removal of sandbags. As each home, business and farm receives their individualized damage assessment, we will work with case managers to assist with the ‘unmet needs’ not covered by insurance and government relief funds.

Needless to say, our communication with these flood survivors could be longstanding. More than 35 percent of our clients come from Buchanan County, where the poverty level is an above-average 17.8 percent. The major concern is the flooding quickly exacerbating that poverty level.

The same applies for the other affected counties, Atchison, Holt, Andrew and Platte, all of which fall within Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph’s 27-county service area.

For most of the clients we see, all it took was one surprise bill to send them on a spiral into crippling poverty. We suspect the flood will have the same impact, given the gravity and duration of damage.

In the case of this happening, we work with individuals and families on a client-case manager basis to provide them with stable housing.

People like Josie, Mark, Lori and Richard are in a vulnerable position, given the circumstances. However, they are not alone. In the devastation and heartbreak, there are stories of resilience and strength, and overwhelming kindness from those willing to pitch in and help.

To support Catholic Charities in the flood relief, visit our website at www.catholiccharities-kcsj.org to donate emergency assistance money. Your donation will be used to provide clothing, food, gas, hygiene products and basic household necessities for those affected by the flood.

To date, we have served 105 households, for a total of 285 people impacted at Rock Port and Mound City events.

Ellen Petersen is Digital/Social Media Coordinator for Catholic Charities.


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December 02, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph