Flooded but faithful: Houston churches help pick up the pieces

May 10, 2016

HOUSTON — After April's devastating floods throughout the Archdiocese, dozens of Catholic churches are stepping up to help victims piece their lives back together.

Record rainfall in the Houston area, more than a foot in some parts, displaced thousands from their homes in dozens of neighborhoods. When the floodwaters slowly started to recede, concerned church members reached out to help. 

‘Like the Mississippi'
In Spring, the Holy Door at St. Ignatius Loyola Catholic Church sits some 500 yards from Spring Creek. When more than 10 inches of rain fell on the north Houston community, Spring Creek flowed out of its banks and quickly found its way to the steps of the church, inundating the parking lots and surrounding neighborhoods.

"Spring Creek looked like the Mississippi River," said Monica Hatcher, outreach director at St. Ignatius. "It just overflowed."

48 hours later, Hatcher and another parishioner reached out to the church's ministry leaders to kickstart the parish's relief efforts. 

"Within hours, we had 120 volunteers ready to go out and do muck-outs, provide meal support, donate items to those affected," she said. "Very quickly, we were able to mobilize volunteers." Soon requests for assistance started pouring in. 

While the parish's campus did not experience major damage, nearby neighborhoods did, she said. Those whose homes flooded were waiting for contractors to do repairs, and were moving up into their home's second floor, or out into relief housing in hotels or with relatives. Hatcher said volunteers worked with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. 

Ethel Maples, a parishioner at St. Ignatius Loyola, said she coordinated both meals for a displaced family and getting volunteers to work a local donation center. She also didn't forget to say her prayers. 

"The hardest thing that I've seen is when we delivered food to the motels. Just listening to some of the people talk and watching the news I cannot imagine where some of these people are going to live," Maples said. 

Millions like Maples watched on TV and saw the flooding take over streets and homes, prompting major water rescues all over the city. But knowing that her parish community can help in some way encourages her, she said. 

"Just seeing the appreciation of the people who have had their homes flooded, they were so appreciative," Maples said. "The people are just so willing to help others in need at any time in anyway they can."

Limited by space, not care
Considered to be the newest Catholic church in the Archdiocese, Fulshear's St. Faustina Catholic Church in Fort Bend County has no actual parish building yet. But that didn't stop Father Dat Hoang, Juan Palomores and fellow parishioners from offering flood relief to the drenched Katy-area neighborhoods. 

Like several parts of Houston, the slow moving storm dropped more than 10 inches of rain in the parish's community. Just two days later, at least 20 inches of rain had fallen throughout the city, making for the wettest April in recorded history in some parts of the city. 

The church community gathered so many supplies, the office ― which functioned as the donation center ― was bursting at the seams, parishioner Carrie Sinosic said. 

After several days of donation intake, she said the parish learned of four families with immediate needs. Right after Friday's daily Mass, a growing group of volunteers immediately went to work, including a family whose daughter just received her First Communion. Even her extended family stayed to sift and sort through donations to find specific clothes, food, and other basic needs for the family.

"So many people stayed to help, kids as young as four- and five-years-old," Sinosic said. "The kids helped pack up toys for the kids flood victims. We were happy to see the kids excited to help, they would ask if the families in need liked what they received."

When one of the family's in need visited the parish office to pick up their donations, Sinosic saw three little faces peeking over the back seat of the car. "They were so grateful," she said. "It's good to see where your work was going." 

Ready for what's next
Just up the road in The Woodlands, Sts. Simon and Jude Catholic Church became a certified Red Cross shelter right after the floods came. In the Timber Ridge/Timber Lakes community directly south of the parish, the same Spring Creek that reached St. Ignatius Loyola's front door also brought in up to six feet of water, said Father Pat Garrett, pastor of the south Woodlands church.

The parish worked with Interfaith of The Woodlands and the Red Cross to offer relief to area flood victims, including those in Timber Ridge/Timber Lakes, he said.

Jim Burkett, volunteer chair coordinator of pastoral care and outreach programs for the parish, said the church became a distribution center for relief goods in The Woodlands. Within that same week, the parish's newly-built event center was quickly approved by the Red Cross to be a shelter, shifting the parish's focus from distribution to sheltering 28 flood victims from Greenspoint, another community hit hard by the floods.
Burkett said 120 parishioners volunteered that week, and still continue to do so. 

"This experience taught us many things," he said. "We're really prepared for the next storm and how we can help."

Mercy in motion
Inspired by Pope Francis' call for the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Sinosic said it's encouraging to reach outside of yourself and be Christ's hand to someone else in need because "everybody knows somebody who had water in their house or in their yard. We all watched water come up in the street so it's a very personal outreach." 

At St. Ignatius Loyola, Hatcher said the Church always stands ready to offer help.

"There's so much goodness out there in people's hearts," she said. "You really see it on beautiful display when something like this happens, so it's very inspiring and heartening." 

Parish flood relief efforts are still on-going throughout the Houston area. Visit www.archgh.org to learn more about ways to help.