When kindness rears it’s beautiful head, a new normal begins

The personal and community stories that emerged after the February winter storm that struck Texas and Oklahoma highlighted many inequities.

Across Oklahoma, the storm caused burst pipes and water damage to thousands of households who found themselves in need of assistance. It provided a clear example of why the Midwest Early Recovery Fund prioritizes low-attention disasters and works to support early recovery services for individuals and households who are low-income, underinsured or uninsured, and lack the social or financial capital to recover successfully.

Eligible households in the 17 counties covered by the FEMA IA declaration received an average of $2,700 for repairs and losses. Thousands of households throughout Oklahoma were not eligible for this assistance; many needed a disaster case manager to help them navigate the complexity of assistance and resources.

This is where Catholic Charities Archdiocese of Oklahoma City stepped in. Through a grant from the Midwest Early Recovery Fund, Catholic Charities completed nearly 4,000 outreach attempts and provided disaster case management services to 96 households in 39 counties. Through their partnership with other organizations in the state, they leveraged more than $88,000 to assist clients with repairs.

One of those clients, Christopher, shared his story with us:

I was severely impacted by the winter storm in February 2021. My county, Sequoyah, was not listed as a disaster area by FEMA, yet my water lines had burst, and I am disabled receiving SSI [Supplemental Security Income] benefits and had no savings. I am a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, and our Tribal Government allotted money to help those impacted. Their contractor replaced my water lines, but as I feared my hot water heater had also been affected. So, I had running water, but no hot water. I live with chronic pain on a daily basis. Taking cold showers were an effort in stamina my body could barely endure. My water heater was an expense I had to figure out how to remedy.

This is where kindness reared its beautiful head and Catholic Charities contacted me. Tiffany Batacao, a disaster case manager, understood I had an issue with my housing that I could not afford to remedy. She walked me through the things I needed to do, documents I needed to provide, etc., and how to do these things efficiently, so I could help her, help me. Compassion lifted the burden of being indebted to the contractor for a new water heater from my shoulders, allowing me breathing room to pay my bills, and just live a normal life.

I owe my current state of normalcy to Tiffany, and Catholic Charities. I am testifying to the outright kindness I was shown, the understanding my situation was afforded, and ultimate compassion shown to help me, no strings attached.

We know that impacts of extreme events like the 2021 winter storms in Oklahoma are real, regardless of community size or location, and can lead to suffering and a loss of normalcy, as Christopher describes. We also know these disaster events often require more ingenuity, persistence and support to generate the resources (people, training, time and materials) for a successful recovery for communities and households. The Midwest Early Recovery Fund is proud to support the work of Catholic Charities as they bring kindness, assistance and hope to individuals, households and communities impacted by this disaster event in Oklahoma.

(Photo source: Catholic Charities Archdiocese of Oklahoma City)