Alissa Marlow has gotten a crash course in disaster relief over the last several months.
The director of community services for Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri (CCCNM) recently returned from a weeklong workshop on disaster relief with Catholic Charities USA.
The training program was held in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in early December and was geared toward equipping attendees in best practices for disaster-response efforts on a local level.
“It was a wonderful training session for our staff to attend,” stated Mrs. Marlow. “We not only learned about disaster care management but also about the network we have with other Catholic Charity agencies.”
Mrs. Marlow is no stranger to disaster relief and its need for networking. In late October, she traveled to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, for close to two weeks and assisted with Hurricane Florence relief and recovery efforts.
She was able to deploy from Missouri and head south thanks to a grant that covered her expenses.
She told The Catholic Missourian that she arrived in South Carolina with some trepidation.
“I wasn’t sure what I was getting into,” she stated. “I had never done anything like this. When I realized that I was going to be deployed, I started following Catholic Charities and the hurricane on Facebook and learned about the distribution efforts that were under way.”
The hurricane affected eight South Carolina counties.
Upon arrival, Mrs. Marlow worked with Catholic Charities of South Carolina’s office in the Pee Dee region.
“I was involved with their distribution days where we helped folks who were impacted by the hurricane with hygiene kits, food, and cleaning supplies,” she said. “We also instructed people on how to navigate the public-assistance system.”
The assessment of needs included immediate, intermediate and long-term needs of the local community.
Each situation was evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
One of the more memorable people Mrs. Marlow met and helped was a survivor of Hurricane Matthew, which struck the Carolinas in 2016.
He was a homeowner who had elevated his house 12 feet after Matthew. He had recently retired and could no longer afford the flood insurance and hoped that the work he had done on raising his house would be enough.
It wasn’t. When Florence struck, it sent four feet of water into the house.
With no insurance, he was not eligible for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
However, Catholic Charities ensured that he had a place to stay and coordinated groups to assist with the cleaning and repairing of his home.
“One of the things Catholic Charities is known for across the county is long-term disaster case management,” Mrs. Marlow noted. “During my days in Myrtle Beach, I spent much of my time connecting survivors to services and resources that would allow them to get back up on their feet.”
She added that many people didn’t understand the federal and local aid system and how to navigate it.
That’s where she came in.
“We reached out to a least 400 households and assessed their needs and made sure they were in the system to receive help,” she said. “A lot of people out there don’t understand the process because they don’t need it until it hits them.”
Mrs. Marlow has been working at Catholic Charities since 2017.
Her motivation to head into the heart of the hurricane-relief effort was simple — love of God and love of neighbor.
“We need to help each other,” she insisted. “If something like this happened to us, we would want the help as well. Sometimes we get so spoiled that we forget that everyone is God’s children and to try to serve and walk His path. We need to help and serve everyone.”
Mrs. Marlow’s experience in South Carolina was only solidified a month later when she attended the Catholic Charities disaster care event in Colorado Springs.
In short, she now had a practical experience that she could draw from to accompany the theoretical.
Even better, all of this knowledge can certainly be applied to work here in the Show-Me State should a natural disaster arise.
“Deploying helped me realize we are more prepared than I thought we were” in Missouri, she said.
“We know who to call on to provide assistance when needed and what steps to take,” she stated. “We are also doing assessments on our counties to determine risks and vulnerabilities to better know how to respond after a disaster.”