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story.lead_photo.caption Dan Lester, executive director of Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri, and Sister Kathleen Wegman talk about the plans for Catholic Charities to be involved for the long haul in helping people recover from flooding, tornadoes and other natural disasters that have befallen many in the state, especially in the Jefferson City Diocese. Photo by Julie Smith / News Tribune.

Out of sight, out of mind.

At least it seems that way for disaster victims who face long-term recoveries.

Disasters in the Midwest seem to fade from the national view quicker than those in higher-populated areas, said Dan Lester, executive director of Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri.

For example, flooding in 2017 that devastated parts of Pulaski, Phelps, Gasconade and other counties in South-Central Missouri caused damage that in some cases took more than a year to overcome. By then, the attention was long gone.

It had evaporated in days, when the next disaster — Hurricane Harvey — caused devastating flooding.

"Any of those Midwest disasters tend to rapidly fade from the public eye," Lester said.

In the short term, Catholic Charities participated in Multi-Agency Resource Centers (MARC) in Jefferson City and Eldon late last week following the May 22 tornado.

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A MARC is considered a one-stop shop for all resources disaster victims may need. It is intended to help people affected by disasters receive resources and move into recovery mode by providing community relief as easily for victims as possible.

"We just wrapped up three days of working at the MARCs," Lester said. "We're trying to get everybody under one roof to make it easier for folks."

Catholic Charities conducted "intakes" from people entering the MARCs — gathering information and providing $50 Walmart gift cards for each storm victim.

However, the organization's focus is on the long-term recovery that people will be going through after flooding and the May 22 tornadoes that ripped through Eldon and eastern Jefferson City.

The American Red Cross and The Salvation Army are experts at meeting the immediate needs of storm victims, Lester said — things like food and shelter.

Catholic Charities' strength is in taking care of what happens down the road, he said.

"What happens when the shelters close and all those different groups that have come into the community in the last two weeks — who have done wonderful and amazing work — finish their operations?" Lester asked. "Folks will be left all over the community wondering, 'Where do I go from here? And how do I rebuild my life after this disaster?' That's the role that we play."

The organization is beginning the follow-up work. However, hotel vouchers won't last. It is asking victims what their plans are.

A person's employer may be OK with them not working while they recover, but they are going to miss those wages. The charity is there to help find ways to fill those gaps, he said.

Moving into summertime, children are out of school. Their families may have been all right if the disaster was during the school year — and children were in classes all day — but they are now likely at home.

"At Catholic Charities, we know we're not going to be able to provide all those services," Lester said. "But, if we can help link them to where those resources are in the community, that's the vital role for us."

Catholic Charities has staff who have done disaster response work in the past — like during the 2017 flooding. It has personnel who are familiar with Federal Emergency Management Agency. It can help find the path if federal assistance doesn't match all the needs, he said.

The organization's national network makes grants available for its local agencies.

"Within a couple of hours of the tornado hitting, we were able to have an application to Catholic Charities U.S.A. for a little bit of funding to start a relief fund."

The charity serves anybody who is in need.

Bishop W. Shawn McKnight of the Catholic Diocese of Jefferson City defines the parish as the center of charity and mercy, Sister Kathleen Wegman said.

People experience church at a parish level, she said. So, when they seek help, they go to the parish.

The role of the parish is shorter term, Wegman said.

Parishioners have volunteered for various aspects of relief.

"The parish is in the position to respond to the immediate," she said.

Because the diocese includes 38 counties, it's watching flooding in Boonville, Hannibal, Canton, La Grange and other parts of Central and Northern Missouri, Lester said.

"We've got multiple disasters that have been happening. Between the tornadoes and the floods, the tornadoes can be pretty immediate," he said. "You can get in there and clean up and begin to do some of those relief efforts. But, with floods — until water goes down and you can get in and do some of those assessments — you can be doing the sandbagging and helping people who have been displaced."

Until the water goes down, which could be well into the summer, the assessment can't come for some time.

Some effects of the flooding won't be known for some time, particularly for farmers, whose window for getting crops in is rapidly closing, said Helen Osman, director of communications for the diocese.

"Their income for the year may be gone," Osman said. "We won't even know until August or September."

Many of the people affected by the floods have had the experience before, Lester said.

"There's a long-term spiritual effect — for those who give and those who receive," Wegman said. "That changes people's lives for the better — to realize that people's lives are more alike than different."

One of the things people will see coming out of disasters is more groups using the opportunity to join their services for the better good of their neighbors, Lester said.

"One of the next steps is the establishment here in the community of the 'Long Term Recovery Committee.' The United Way is going to be — like they've done so wonderfully with so many of these efforts — heading up the creation of the committee," Lester said. "That will be a place where all these different providers whether it's Catholic Charities, Compass, Common Ground, Salvation Army or others — that are working with these folks long term will be able to get together and do that case conferencing. They'll say, 'Hey, I've got this family. Here's what their needs are. Is there a service available?'

"It's almost a continuation of that MARC, which really helps."

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