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Disaster donations pour in to parishes
By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor

Kevin Kelly/Key photo
From left, Cristie Thuren, Natalie Johnson and Karrin Thomas pack donations at Sacred Heart-Guadalupe Parish in Kansas City.
KANSAS CITY - Within hours after area media announced on Nov. 6 that Sacred Heart-Guadalupe Parish was designated as a collection point for relief supplies for victims of Hurricane Mitch, parish receptionist Lucilia Rogers said the phone began ringing off the hook.

"It's been crazy here," said Rogers, adding that a steady stream of people had been coming into the parish offices at 970 Cesar Chavez Ave. (formerly 23rd Street) to deliver checks and boxes and bags filled with food, clothes and medicines for the storm victims in Honduras, Nicaragua and el Salvador.

The response was so heavy that the parish opened its offices over the weekend to handle the demand.

By early Saturday morning, donations had already filled a spare room in the parish office building, and more was coming in.

But much more is needed, said Cristie Thuren, a volunteer with Mo-Kan Central America Emergency Relief, the group based at the University of Missouri-Kansas City that is organizing the effort.

"Can openers," said Thuren, as she loaded a box of canned goods. "Tell people to give can openers."

Rick Mann, communications officer at UMKC, said the early response to the effort has been "incredible."

"We had one barrel set up at the University Center," Mann said. "When I went to check it, I couldn't believe all the bags of clothing that were there. And that was in one day."

In just the first weekend Nov. 7 and 8, the drive had netted about 50 plastic garbage bags of clothes and dozens of boxes of food and medical supplies, he said.

Mann added that food is particularly needed now.

"I think the need has turned away from clothing and more to food," he said.

Mann said relief supplies will continue to be collected "until further notice" at four sites in Kansas City, including Sacred Heart/Guadalupe Parish.

Those sites are: UMKC University Center Cafeteria, 50th Street and Rockhill Road; Don Bosco Senior Center, 580 Campbell; and Donnelly College International Center, 710 N. 20th St., Kansas City, Kan.

In St. Joseph, the scene was the same, said Karen Hauser, director of the Diocesan Catholic Charities northern branch office.

A community-wide, ecumenical relief effort has netted money and badly needed clothing, food and medical supplies, she said.

St. Francis Xavier Parish, 2618 Seneca St., in St. Joseph serving as a collection point, she said, and all parishes in the St. Joseph area are participating.

"We are accepting donations of food, blankets, first aid and medical supplies," Hauser said.

Parishes throughout St. Joseph and in other parts of the Diocese are also taking up special collections.

In the Kansas City area, parishes with sister communities in El Salvador are gathering supplies that will be shipped to that nation on Nov. 23.

Bonnie Schlich, a member of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish in Blue Springs, said the sister parishes and other parishes are asking people to donate baby items, over-the-counter medications, personal items such as soap and toothpaste, non-perishable food in unbreakable containers, hand tools and bedding and linens.

Parishes participating in the effort were to make announcements at weekend Masses Nov. 14 and 15. Items also can be taken directly to the Blue Springs parish, Schlich said.

Jesuit Father Tim McMahon, pastor of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Kansas City, said that a simple bulletin insert and a special second collection netted about $4,000 for the Central American relief effort. A normal Sunday collection at the parish is about $5,000, he said.

Bishop Raymond J. Boland also announced that the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph will send two donations to Catholic Relief Services, one for the victims of Hurricane Mitch, and one for the victims of Hurricane Georges, which devastated island nations in the Caribbean only weeks earlier.

Bishop Boland said that the Diocese learned of the generosity of others during the 1993 floods that devastated cities and towns along the Missouri River.

Installed as Bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph that September, Bishop Boland decided against having a formal reception following the installation ceremony and to donate that money toward flood relief. When his gesture was reported nationally, it prompted thousands of dollars of additional relief from throughout the nation.

"People were so good to us then. This is one oway of giving something back," the Bishop said.

Catholics can make donations directly to Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops' international aid agency, at P.O. Box 17090, Baltimore, Md., 21203-7090. Checks should be made payable to Catholic Relief Services and marked "Hurricane Mitch."

Michael Watt, deputy regional director of CRS Latin America & Caribbean Regional Office, detailed how donations would be spent in a letter to Msgr. Dennis M. Schnurr, general secretary of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference.

  • In Honduras, CRS has already provided $100,000 of immediate relief supplies to communites along the north coast. Other assistance will be targeted to affected people in southern Honduras, CRS will also distribute medicines donated by the Catholic Medical Mission Board, Watt said.

  • In Nicaragua, CRS will provide funds to transport and distribute World Food Programme food assistance. CRS will also distribute more than $700,000 worth of medicines from the Catholic Medical Mission Board to clinics in the affected area.

  • In Guatemala, CRS is using private dontions and food from its U.S. Title II program to provide short-term rations to more than 64,000 people who are now living in emergency shelters. l In El Salvador, CRS is negotiating with the World Food Programme to provide emergency food supplies. CRS will also use donations to provide medicines, food and other supplies through the Caritas Internationalis network.

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