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  • Youth & Education Assistant
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Walking the long road to disaster recovery, together

By Alissa Marlow with Ashley Wiskirchen

I first came into the “disaster world” in 2017, when I was hired temporarily to provide disaster case management services to households impacted by flooding and severe storms. While disaster response is more immediate, disaster case management takes a holistic look at the story of a household – from physical living conditions to employment status and special needs – with the goal of finding the best-fit long-term solution to recoup what a family has lost in a disaster.

The process begins with outreach; essentially “cold calling” disaster victims to check in and assess their needs and whether they would benefit from disaster case management services at Catholic Charities.

During my outreach attempts, I met a woman who had been displaced and was currently living at the Salvation Army Shelter with her young daughter. Their home had been flooded with over four feet of water. With no place to go, they lived for two days in their vehicle before finding a safe place to stay. By the time I met her, four months had passed since the initial flooding – and she was losing hope of finding a long-term housing solution. The resources available in her county were slim, and while the flooding had destroyed her home, no designation had been made to allow for federal resources to assist her. While I could not make promises to fix their home, I did commit to reviving the search for resources and accompanying her along the road to recovery.

Walking that road to recovery with a family after a natural disaster is not easy. While mainstream media will cover a disaster for hours or days, the news cycle moves on to the next hurricane, wildfire, earthquake, or manmade disaster quickly. Even now, the attention after the destruction of Hurricane Ida in Florida is forgotten as we see the tragic numbers from earthquakes in Turkey continue to roll in.

So, what happens to the people and households who suffer after a small-scale disaster moves through their town? In our own diocese, families have lost everything – documents, photos, memories, medication, clothing – without the ability (or sometimes insurance coverage) to cover replacement costs. Life outside of the disaster goes on, but for those experiencing it, the “new normal” sets in.

That’s where we, at Catholic Charities, take on the opportunity to be a beacon of light to help households when they feel there is no one to help them.

I’d encountered this family who had lost everything, was coping with medical issues, and dealing with the trauma they were reliving each time it stormed. As we began to work together, I knew I needed to embody the mission of Catholic Charities to these people: provide care, create hope. One step at a time we re-collected their vital documents, registered for school, helped find employment, and even helped support their move into their first apartment. Along the way, we got the family connected to the medical care they needed and supportive services to keep them healthy and safe.  

In each of our programs at Catholic Charities, we seek to provide compassionate social services to clients with their dignity at the top of our minds. We are here to walk alongside our neighbors, listening, caring, respecting their individual choices, and helping provide opportunities for housing, employment, mental health support, food security and more.

Often the ones in our community who are the most vulnerable, living paycheck to paycheck with no savings are impacted the most – by life situations and especially by natural or manmade disasters. With our disaster preparedness, response, and case management we are answering the call to provide options for the poor and vulnerable, a Catholic Social Teaching we hold in high regard. We serve not only Catholics, but because we are Catholic, to help serve our brothers and sisters in need regardless of faith, culture, or situation.

Alissa Marlow served Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri as the Director of Community Services and Senior Director of Programs and Services for 6 years. In her roles at Catholic Charities, she also served as the Capacity Building Director, Midwest Initiative through Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA) In that role, Alissa’s work focused on building Catholic Charities member agency capacities across the Midwest in non-disaster times. Her work has been presented at CCUSA conventions and conferences to share best practices with other member agencies.