By The Tablet Staff
PROSPECT HEIGHTS — Catholics make up less than 1% of the population in Eastern Kentucky, but local churches are stepping up in a big way to help victims of the devastating floods that hit the region on July 27.
Catholic churches in the area are distributing food baskets, and in some cases paying utility bills for flood victims, according to Edward Bauer, director of communications for the Diocese of Lexington.
“It’s just because of the generosity of the people of the Diocese of Lexington that we are able to be one of the main providers of services in these areas,” Bauer told Currents News.
Thirty-seven people have died in the flooding, which began on July 27 when heavy rains hit an already saturated region of Eastern Kentucky. All or parts of 16 counties were underwater. Floodwaters destroyed hundreds of homes, farms, and businesses. As of Aug. 3, there were still hundreds of people missing.
Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Lexington has been coordinating relief efforts on the ground, working with 70 different agencies from around the state and the nation, including identifying warehouses where food, hygiene products, and other emergency supplies could be shipped, sorted, and then distributed locally.
The destruction left by the flooding is hampering recovery efforts in some areas, Bauer said. “It’s just access. In some of the areas, the roads and bridges were completely washed out. For example, I was speaking with the lady who’s the parish life director [at] Mother of Good Counsel [Church in Hazard, Ky.] They’re up on a hill, but the city all around them is filled with water and flooded.”
Churches in the Diocese of Lexington were largely spared.
“First of all, thank goodness our churches and other properties haven’t been damaged,” Bauer said. “But the areas surrounding the churches have been devastated. Homes lost. People have lost possessions.”
Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Lexington will be there to help victims both in the short term and over the long term, said executive director Meg Campos.
“Catholic Charities comes in in the initial phase, and we are there for the long haul,” she told Currents News.
In the short term, the organization is working with flood relief experts to find temporary homes for people and get food and supplies to victims as quickly as possible. The long-term assistance will include rebuilding homes and looking after victims’ mental health.
“We really have to rally together and help get the people re-homed, to rebuild their lives, and walk with them in this type of trauma,” Campos explained.
Catholic Charities is hoping to bring counseling services to the area. “We’re already working on that angle, too,” she said.