January 25, 2022 | Local News
Fr. Stephen Van Lal Than

Volunteers load supplies onto a truck in the parking lot of St. Joseph Parish in Mayfield on Dec. 15, 2021. The supplies will be shared with survivors of the Dec. 10 tornadoes. RILEY GREIF | WKC

Seeing long road ahead for Ky. tornado recovery, Catholic Charities asks for continued assistance


Families across western Kentucky continue to face the long-term impact of the tornadoes that hit during the night of Dec. 10, 2021 – but Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Owensboro is working to accompany these survivors every step of the way.

Susan Montalvo-Gesser, the director of Catholic Charities, explained that tornado recovery is both “short-term and long-term.”

Short-term needs include shelter, clothing and medical needs. Long-term needs include repairing and rebuilding homes affected by the tornadoes. Catholic Charities has been providing financial assistance through gift cards sent to and distributed by parishes.

Susan Montalvo-Gesser. FILE PHOTO

The deadline to apply for FEMA and/or SBA loan assistance is Feb. 11, and as of Montalvo-Gesser’s Jan. 20, 2022 conversation with The Western Kentucky Catholic, FEMA registrations were already at 14,800. Catholic Charities has been attending, assembling and coordinating with LTRO (Long Term Recovery) organizations in the 12 counties that were affected: Fulton, Hickman, Graves, Marshall, Lyon, Caldwell, Christian, Hopkins, Muhlenburg, Logan, Ohio and Warren.

Montalvo-Gesser added that they will also be helping Grayson County, which is not included in the LTRO, but which sustained some tornado damage.

“We will have the CAP (Counseling Assistance Program offered by the diocese) and other crisis counseling available to all the tornado survivors,” said Montalvo-Gesser. “We’ll have that emotional and spiritual care.”

Currently, Catholic Charities expects the overall recovery to take two to four years.

Montalvo-Gesser said the average FEMA award that people typically receive is about $9,000, but that the maximum FEMA award – if someone has lost “absolutely everything” and has nothing left – is $36,000.

“Now, can you rebuild a house on that?” she asked. “No, you cannot.”

This is where Catholic Charities will step in: to help their neighbors across western Kentucky to heal and slowly rebuild their lives.

Montalvo-Gesser encourages Catholic business owners, especially those with lumber and building materials, to consider offering supplies at a reduced cost. Catholic Charities also plans to coordinate with area parishes to house volunteers and make meals for those involved with rebuilding.

“I’m really appreciative for our bishop and all the good people who have freely given of their time and talent to help – it’s just amazing,” said Montalvo-Gesser of Bishop William F. Medley.

She said the outpouring of monetary donations from people across the country has been incredible.  But since this work is ongoing – and will be for a long time – she hopes people will continue giving.

Besides tornado recovery, Catholic Charities must continue its everyday operations like offering immigration legal services, resources for those experiencing homelessness, and crisis pregnancy care – which includes the St. Gerard Life Home in Owensboro. Montalvo-Gesser is counting on donations to keep these other ministries going.

“My goal is to rebuild 350 homes, but Catholic Charities cannot do it alone,” she said. “We’re like the boy with the loaves and fishes, but if the boy with the loaves and fishes isn’t there, the people aren’t fed.”

How to help

Monetary donations may be given digitally via https://owensborodiocese.org/give/. Checks may be mailed, with “Tornado Disaster Relief” written in the memo, to Catholic Charities, 600 Locust St., Owensboro, KY, 42301. To learn more about ways to help, call the McRaith Catholic Center at (270) 683-1545.

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Publisher |  Bishop William F. Medley
Editor |  Elizabeth Wong Barnstead
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