Catholic Charities of Arkansas has provided relief and long-term recovery casework services since the March 31 tornado that swept across Arkansas, inflicting large-scale damage where it touched down. Its focus is on Pulaski and Lonoke counties in central Arkansas and Cross County in eastern Arkansas, which were declared disaster areas.
According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Little Rock, North Little Rock, Sherwood, Jacksonville, Cabot, Wynne and surrounding areas had more than 3,500 households with tornado-related losses based on FEMA-approved applications.
Sarah Alvarez, tornado recovery caseworker for Catholic Charities of Arkansas, began contacting Catholic parishes in communities with tornado damage to identify and contact households impacted. This is an ongoing process, and Catholic Charities of Arkansas wants to hear from any Catholic parishioners who have not been contacted. Alvarez can be reached at or (501) 664-0340.
During weekend Masses April 15-16, a special collection was taken up in all the parishes. Dennis Lee, chancellor for administrative affairs, said that combined with individual donations, more than $190,000 has been received for Catholic Charities of Arkansas to provide tornado relief and recovery casework services.
Lee said it is anticipated that Little Rock, North Little Rock and Wynne will each have a Long-Term Recovery Group made up of representatives from helping organizations like Catholic Charities of Arkansas, city employees and other faith-based groups. Resources will be pooled, and through sharing information about tornado-impacted households, including assistance provided by FEMA and insurance settlements, unmet needs will be identified and addressed to the extent they can be by the Long-Term Recovery Groups.
Speaking about the amount of damage that her neighborhood experienced March 31, Alvarez said she “was shocked by the fallen trees everywhere, all the homes that were destroyed and without roofs and the debris on the road.”
The caseworker said her family was “blessed” to be safe and escape any damage to their home. Alvarez said when she was offered her job with Catholic Charities of Arkansas, she saw it “as an opportunity to help and make a difference.” Reflecting on her work so far, Alvarez said that in her time at Catholic Charities of Arkansas, she has learned that “true happiness lies in helping others, whether it is through prayers, donations or even just listening to people and their stories.”
While making calls to impacted households, Alvarez learned about Bertha Estrada, a member of St. Anne Church in North Little Rock, who is grateful for the long-term recovery casework services she is receiving through Catholic Charities of Arkansas. The mother and widow has a food truck, Tacos Del Norte, currently parked in Cabot. Her home in a neighborhood near St. Anne was severely damaged, and her family of seven has had to split up to live with family and friends.
Estrada said, “Coming home from work and not having my family there … I need and miss my family.”
She said she needs a new roof and a central heat and air system before she can move back into her home, and she is waiting for a check from her insurance company that will only cover part of these expenses.
In the meantime, she said she is struggling with making her mortgage payments and coming up with rent money for an apartment while she waits for her house to be repaired and continues to operate her food truck.
Catholic Charities of Arkansas still accepts donations for “Tornado Relief and Recovery.” An online donation can be made at bit.ly/CatholicCharitiesArkansas, or a check can be mailed to Disaster Relief Fund, Diocese of Little Rock, 2500 North Tyler Street, Little Rock, AR 72207.
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