December 1, 2022 | Local News
Fr. Stephen Van Lal Than

On July 19, 2022, Jimmy Galbreath and Josephine Jones stand with several family members in front of their house, which was being rebuilt through a partnership between Mennonite Disaster Services and Homes and Hope for Kentucky. Galbreath is a client of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Owensboro, which has helped him as he rebuilds and recovers from the tornadoes. He received the keys to his completed home on Sept. 21. ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD | WKC

‘It’s going to be a long time’

As volunteers taper off, Catholic Charities calls for help, building supplies, amid Ky. tornado recovery


“It was unreal” is a Mayfield man’s description of surviving the Dec. 10, 2021 tornadoes that tore across western Kentucky.

Jimmy Galbreath, who is a client of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Owensboro, told The Western Kentucky Catholic the harrowing story of being in his truck during the storm – “it turned my truck sideways” – but said God protected him and guided him to a nearby dollar store, where he was able to find shelter.

Sadly, his house was destroyed by the tornadoes.

But thanks to Catholic Charities’ case management, and assistance from Mennonite Disaster Services which is partnering with Homes and Hope for Kentucky, Galbreath gained a new home.

“It’s unreal,” he repeated, but this time referencing the community agencies coming together to help him and his neighbors. He received the keys to his new house on Sept. 21.

Galbreath said throughout his life he has learned that if a person trusts God and has faith, “God will put good people in your life.”

Rebuilding and repairing homes like Galbreath’s has become one of the main focuses of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Owensboro, but the pressure is on as fewer and fewer volunteers step up to help.

“Just because it’s not new anymore doesn’t mean it’s not needed,” said Scott Ingram, a director of case management with Catholic Charities.

Catholic Charities was inundated with phone calls and emails from people across the United States wanting to drive out and rebuild immediately after the Dec. 10 storms.

But at the time, Catholic Charities’ most pressing need was to collect monetary donations in order to provide food, shelter and other necessary items as families reeled in the shock of losing everything.

Ironically, now that survivors are better stabilized and the steps are underway to finally start rebuilding homes in the region, the volunteer base has tapered off.

“We really need volunteers,” said Ingram. “Skilled labor is needed really badly.”

Ingram said that during the summer they saw fewer volunteer groups travel to the region “because it was so hot.”

Besides the shortage of volunteers, Ingram said another obstacle has been a lack of building supplies due to backorders and price hikes. They are greatly in need of donations of building materials.

“It’s going to be a long time,” he said of the progress, which has been estimated to take three to five years.

Karina Gonzalez, a Catholic Charities case manager, started helping with tornado recovery as a volunteer at St. Joseph Parish in Mayfield, which was a hub for tornado relief immediately following the disaster.

“It’s painful still,” she said, explaining that her small town is a shell of its former beauty.

At the same time, she is glad to be working for Catholic Charities so that she can assist her neighbors holistically: “We also help with other needs, we can help them with finding mental health resources, to help them as a ‘whole.’”

“Money is important but it’s not everything,” she said.

While rebuild and recovery “will take a long time,” she said that “every day I get up in the morning, and I say, ‘this will be a good day.’ That makes me feel better.”

Gonzalez said “even a smile from a client” can brighten her day and keep her going.

Carol Hernandez, a fellow Graves County case manager with Catholic Charities, survived the May 2016 tornadoes that struck western Kentucky and destroyed her home.

“I was a victim of that so I know what it is like,” she said.

Hernandez said that back in 2016, after having to live in a hotel for three months, God “made a way for me. I didn’t do this by myself, God did this for me.”

Because of her personal experience, she has been able to empathize with survivors of the December tornadoes – by “being grateful” and offering them the encouragement that brighter days are ahead.

“You’ve got to have that hope,” she said.

Hernandez said that she brought her family to Mayfield because it is a good city.

“I love this town, this is a good little town, but people need to be treated equally,” she added, referencing stories of tornado survivors who have been discriminated against because of race. “It’s important to work together.”

She said Catholic Charities “is amazing,” and that she wants clients and potential clients – no matter their life situations – to know that “there are people here that care about them.”

Shanna Bradley’s own relatives were affected by the tornadoes, which makes her even more dedicated to her work as a Graves County case manager for Catholic Charities.

Her focus lately has been on helping survivors find housing.  

“A lot of the low-income housing was hit really hard,” she said, explaining that this worsened circumstances for an already vulnerable population.

Bradley echoed her teammates’ requests for more people to step forward and help.

“We need volunteers, love and support” showing survivors “that they weren’t forgotten,” she said. “Some of them feel alone. A lot of them are in counseling.”

And yet, “God has been here all the time,” she said. “He’s always right here.”

Originally printed in the December 2022 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.

Current Issue

Publisher |  Bishop William F. Medley
Editor |  Elizabeth Wong Barnstead
Contributors |  Riley Greif, Rachel Hall
Layout |  Rachel Hall
Send change of address requests to [email protected]