St Joseph Community Partnership Fund’s Commitment to Communities Affected by March Tornados

Last week, tornadoes across Mississippi and Alabama killed at least 32 people and completely devastated the town of Rolling Fork, Mississippi. Many other areas in multiple states were also hit. Through our commitment to tornado relief and to respond in times of crisis, the Fund is tracking these hazards and working with our partners to assess the damage, community needs, and the critical next steps. Though all tornadoes can be deadly, these recent ones were especially violent. This and the historical and systemic marginalization of many populations in the affected areas – such as Black and low-income rural communities – contributed to the devastation witnessed. High levels of poverty with vulnerable housing resulted in significant damage.

In response to these deadly tornadoes, the Fund is providing Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA) a $50,000 grant toward their hurricane relief fund to provide immediate assistance to communities affected. Resources that will be supported include food, water, shelter, and financial support to survivors.

CCUSA’s disaster response activities are being coordinated through locations in Jackson and Vardaman, with help coming from local Catholic Charities agencies from Baton Rouge and Lafayette, as well as Memphis and Biloxi – they are providing support through staff and product delivery.

CCUSA is providing technical assistance, coordination, and product procurement through national partners. Products most in demand include waterproof plastic totes, water, non-perishable food, diapers, baby wipes, baby food, flashlights, first aid kits, paper towels, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, personal hygiene items, tarps, and towels.

As an example of how disasters lay inequities bare, the state of Mississippi has the highest poverty rate in the nation (50% higher than the national average), and Sharkey County, home to Rolling Fork, has an astronomical poverty rate of more than 35%. The Catholic Charities active in these areas serve clientele consisting of majority communities of color – the areas most impacted are also majority communities of color.

The local Catholic Charities Disaster Response team is working with government officials; other non-profits and faith-based groups; and fellow organizations part of the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD).

The Fund will continue to monitor and communicate with CCUSA as well as the Center for Disaster Philanthropy to assess ongoing and long-term needs.