Flood waters cannot stop the spirit of service

May 17, 2016

In December 2015, Jefferson County, Missouri, faced a severe flooding crisis. Mild temperatures and excessive rain caused the Mississippi and Meramec Rivers to overflow, spilling into small creeks throughout the area. In just a few days, residents in that region lost their homes, possessions and sense of community. To compound matters, a number of the residents were elderly and survived on meager incomes, typically Social Security.

While many awaited a declaration of disaster and subsequent FEMA involvement, Catholic Charities of St. Louis dispatched their St. Francis Community social workers to provide immediate assessment of the residents’ needs. Hundreds were in need and community resources were unprepared. The St. Francis Community contacted Cardinal Ritter Senior Services (CRSS), also of St. Louis, to assist in providing housing and additional aid to the many displaced senior citizens. The seniors were contacted and offered housing, relocation and other forms of immediate assistance by CRSS in a timely manner. Shortly thereafter a federal declaration was announced and FEMA moved into the Jefferson County area.

Catholic Charities allotted several hundred dollars in relocation fees while CRSS reserved senior apartments throughout the St. Louis city and county area. CRSS leadership also designated monies for hotel expenses, utilities, transportation and immediate personal needs. The overall effort proved beneficial and deeply satisfying to both the seniors in need and the service providers. The senior flood victims appreciated the assistance, and they did all that they could for themselves under the worst of circumstances.

One of the seniors was Mike Longo, a seventy-three year old single gentleman who had resided in Barnhart, MO, in Jefferson County. Mike had lived in a small apartment adjoining a workshop where he repaired furniture. His living and work space were under more than a foot of water, destroying the floors, walls, furnace and most of his possessions. Under the conditions, Mike was forced to move in with his sister in another county, far away from his friends and community.

A CRSS social worker advised Mike to contact FEMA for three apartment referrals. She also sent him gift cards for food and other items. He checked out the referrals but none were appropriate. FEMA could give him some funds but they were insufficient to afford an apartment on his income. The social worker then referred Mike to the Small Business Association (SBA), per FEMA’s instructions. The hope was that the SBA could help him with a small loan to purchase a mobile home in his community.

Unfortunately the SBA informed Mike that they would not extend him a loan and that his veteran status did not change the situation. The social worker then suggested that Mike view one of the CRSS senior apartment properties. The building was on the CRSS main campus near a pleasant wooded area. The apartments were HUD-subsidized and would therefore be affordable. The social worker also sent Mike more gift cards to tide him over.

The apartment turned out to be ideal for Mike’s situation. He liked it and he made an excellent senior tenant with his positive attitude and interest in others. Catholic Charities was able to give him funds for his security deposit. CRSS was able to offer him some good quality used furniture to replace some of what he had lost. Mike is now comfortably situated in his own apartment and able to resume his work. It was a positive outcome for all involved.

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