Jeff Suess removed his glasses and rubbed his face. On the table in front of him was a folder with a stack of 196 referrals from the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. All of them were households within the boundaries of Christ the King in University City in need of assistance after recent flooding.
“We made a plea to the parish a couple of weeks ago because we were almost out of money, and they stepped in,” raising about $18,000 so far, said Suess, who heads the St. Vincent de Paul conference at Christ the King. Parishioners from neighboring Our Lady of Lourdes in University City and Immacolata in Richmond Heights also have helped with money and food donations.
Christ the King’s St. Vincent de Paul plans to cross-reference the referrals, which came from recent Multi-Agency Resource Center (MARC) events held across the St. Louis area, to determine if they’ve already helped some of those neighbors in need.
Members of the St. Vincent de Paul Society St. Louis Council were present at six of the MARC events, gathering information from a little more than a thousand households across the region affected by the flooding and offering immediate assistance through gift cards and food vouchers. After the MARCs, parish conferences received information on the households within their boundaries.
In the coming weeks, Vincentian volunteers will be going two-by-two to make house visits and offer assistance with furniture, clothing, food and some limited rental help. The St. Louis Council has a dedicated disaster relief fund to supplement assistance for households as needed.
“We will be asking what their needs are and offer to pray with them, and help them as best we can,” Suess said.
Prayer is an essential part of the St. Vincent de Paul Society’s relationship with neighbors in need, said Julie Komanetsky, program director at the society.
“I had one woman (at a MARC event) tell me that the prayers meant more than the gift card,” Komanetsky said. “Another time, I asked if I could pray for a woman, and when I finished, she in turn asked if she could pray for me.”
“These are two-way relationships, and our Vincentians feel that,” she said. “Many signed up to work one MARC and ended up coming back a second and third time. It is so powerful to be able to offer that help, but it is also in giving that we receive, and a lot of Vincentians wanted to come back and be that support for people.”
Christ the King opened its food pantry Aug. 20, inviting about two dozen individuals who had called during the month of August for assistance. It was the third time this month that the food pantry was open — typically, it’s only open once a month.
Tinesha Dean was among those affected by flood damage. She and her four children had been living in a rental house in University City for two months when torrential rains hit several parts of St. Louis in late July. Dean escaped the first round of rain unscathed, but the second wave that hit later in the week proved to be too much. The sewer drain in the unfinished basement backed up and took on almost three feet of water, damaging many of her family’s personal belongings.
Dean and her landlord were in the process of appealing FEMA’s decision to deny disaster-related coverage. In the meantime, she turned to St. Vincent de Paul for help with necessities.
“We had just moved in, so pretty much all of our belongings were downstairs: clothes, shoes, all of the kids’ toys. All that stuff is gone,” she said. “I didn’t have time to get the rental insurance just yet; I didn’t think something like this was going to happen so soon.”
North St. Louis County
“We’re here to see what St. Vincent de Paul can do to help you after your experience with the flood,” Marty Bligh told Petrinia Felder.
Marty and Annette Bligh and Patrick Barrett, all members of the Holy Name of Jesus St. Vincent de Paul conference in north St. Louis County, sat with Felder at her kitchen table Aug. 20, surrounded by small furniture pieces and other items salvaged from her basement.
The heavy rains on July 26 caused gathering floodwater to burst through the door in Felder’s walkout basement, filling the basement with about four feet of water.
“It was like a tidal wave,” Felder said.
She has rented the home for eight years, and in that time, has experienced three flooding events — but this one was the worst. Because of the damage and the possibility of mold, the two bedrooms and extra living space in the basement are no longer usable. The main level is not large enough to fit all five members of her household, so Felder is looking for a new place to rent and hopes to move by the end of the month.
“It was so devastating,” Felder said. “I’ve never been in a flood like that. I like a pool, but not inside my house.”
For now, the St. Vincent de Paul Society gave her thrift store vouchers to help meet her family’s immediate needs for things like clothing, and promised to check in again as she figured out her next home.
Felder grasped the Blighs’ hands to pray the Our Father together.
“We will keep in touch with you,” Marty Bligh said, “and if there’s anything else you need, we’ll do what we can.”
St. Charles County
Chyanne Schwerdt and Jeremy Schneider were jolted awake around 3:30 a.m. July 26 in their O’Fallon home.
“The loud emergency alert on our phones woke us up,” Schwerdt said. “Then we heard water running.”
Val Whitney and Jim Boyle of the St. Vincent de Paul conference at Immaculate Conception in Dardenne Prairie visited Schwerdt and Schneider Aug. 19 to listen to their story and offer assistance, bearing two large boxes of food from the conference’s food pantry. Boyle had visited another flooded house in the same neighborhood earlier that week.
The couple’s sewer had backed up through the shower in the main floor guest bathroom, flooding the bathroom and pouring into an air duct and out through the ceiling of the basement. The basement also flooded with about five inches of stormwater — despite the two installed sump pumps — ruining the carpet, walls, furniture and many personal belongings.
“We had a finished basement. We had to unfinish it,” Schneider said.
Schwerdt and Schneider stayed in a hotel for nine nights with their two dogs while they worked to clear ruined furniture out of the basement, clean the air ducts, tear out soaked drywall and carpets and spray for mold.
The couple bought the home — their first — in October 2021. While they did receive some money from their homeowner’s insurance policy and from FEMA, repairing the gutted guest bathroom and basement will be a long, expensive project, piled on top of extra costs from the hotel stay and taking time off work to deal with the cleanup.
In addition to assistance with some utility bills, Whitney and Boyle talked the couple through other available resources in the area, like the Sharing Shed, an organization in O’Fallon that partners with churches and agencies to provide furniture for people in need.
“St. Vincent de Paul is here to help you over the hump a little,” Whitney said.
>> Catholic Charities
Catholic Charities of St. Louis, along with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, participated in the Multi-Agency Resource Center events held across the St. Louis area the first two weeks of August. MARCs brought together agencies and organizations that could offer a wide range of help to flood victims.
Catholic Charities worked with 458 households across the MARCs, helping to make connections with needed resources, giving out $100 gift cards for immediate needs like clothing or gas and providing bags with some helpful items for flood cleanup.
On Aug. 8, President Joe Biden approved Gov. Mike Parson’s request for a major disaster declaration for Missouri in response to the flooding that occurred July 25-28. The declaration allows eligible residents in the City of St. Louis and St. Louis and St. Charles counties to apply for assistance through FEMA’s Individual Assistance program. Residents can seek federal assistance with temporary housing, housing repairs, replacement of damaged belongings, vehicles and other qualifying expenses as a result of the flooding and storms, according to a news release from Gov. Parson’s office.
Catholic Charities is now working to contact the families they spoke with at the MARCs to encourage them to apply for help, said Dolores Daniels, program support manager at Catholic Charities.
“We’re calling all 458 households to remind them to contact FEMA and open an application, and let FEMA do their work,” Daniels said.
Individuals who sustained damage or losses due to the flooding between July 25 and July 28 in the City of St. Louis and St. Louis and St. Charles counties may apply for FEMA disaster assistance online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov or by calling FEMA’s toll-free application line at 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) from 6 a.m.-10 p.m., seven days a week. Those affected by the flooding are encouraged to document losses, including photographing damage and retaining receipts.
>> To help
To give to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, contact your parish’s conference or visit svdpstlouis.org/donate.