In East Port Arthur, Texas, Saint Joseph Catholic Church is the gathering place for a predominantly Latino populated area. It was the staging site for a unique American Red Cross event organized by the Latino Engagement Team (LET) deployed for Hurricanes Marco, Laura and Delta recovery efforts. Red Crossers handed out 150 activity packets for children and supplied approximately 300 families with cleaning supplies and food.
Dr. Felix Colon, LET lead for the ongoing disaster response operation explains how this community event was conceived. “After I saw everything that happened in this region, I thought it would be good to educate the community and start with children. They are still going through a lot of stress.”
Each packet contained disaster-related coloring books, crayons, games, puzzles and a lesson plan for parents. Children in the area have been displaced and haven’t been able to go to school either in person or virtually. Materials distributed will break the monotony and help children think about something constructive during these difficult times.
An educational goal was also achieved with the adults, to familiarize the audience with the Red Cross mission and resources. After church service Dr. Colon addressed the audience, describing different programs available to families, meeting sites, points of distribution locations and information on how to prepare for future disasters.
While devastation in this part of town is rarely shown in the news, the Red Cross continues to work with underserved populations, community partners and groups to pull them up and being at their side through the recovery process. A drive through East Port Arthur and immediately noticeable are the remnants of recent hurricanes. Collapsed business structures and mounds of debris are found along thoroughfares. Tarps and yet more debris are consistently seen on residential side streets.
“Latino groups don’t have the same access to recovery,” says Veronica Villegas, Divisional Volunteer Services Executive for this operation, “there’s fear to get to the normal resources for help. By coming to them, we are showing that we will find the needs and deliver the support,” she adds.
Saint Joseph has been a key site for Red Cross feeding and point of distribution during the aftermath of hurricanes Harvey and Imelda. Father Kevin L. Badeau was recognized as the bridge between community and the Red Cross. “We have worked with Fr. Kevin for the last several years since Harvey and later on after a big multi-family fire mobilizing the community,” says Chester Jourdan, Southeast and Deep East Texas Chapter Executive Director for the Red Cross. “We noticed that a number of home fires were happening in predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods, but we were not getting calls for assistance,” says Jourdan, “and it was through Father Kevin that the Red Cross has gained the trust of the Hispanic community,” he adds.
Community events like these are not an isolated effort. “The largest gains will be during blue skies reaching out to vulnerable populations so when the storm comes, they are able to respond and rebuild in an effective way,” he concludes.