Catholic Charities Employees Share Stories of Assisting in Houston

CCNLA Employee Carl Piehl volunteers in Houston.

by Lucy Medvec

One month after Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas, over 500 employees and volunteers attended the Catholic Charities USA Annual Gathering in Houston. Even though the area was still recovering from devastating floods, CCUSA felt that its presence was needed more than ever in order to help those who had been affected. In addition to attending seminars and listening to speakers, Annual Gathering attendees were given the opportunity to go out into the community to help with disaster relief efforts. Here are stories from two Catholic Charities of North Louisiana employees who saw firsthand the devastation from Hurricane Harvey.

Suhad Salamah, Benefits Manager
I worked in the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston- Houston warehouse where we assisted with sorting, creating packets/boxes and inventory. We were a group of 55 and we divided up into four groups to create packets/boxes of food, hygiene, cleaning supplies and baby items. Once the items were boxed up and completed, we loaded them onto the truck that would be taking them to the neighborhoods.

I didn’t get to speak with anyone that was directly affected by the hurricane, but I was told that while they were in neighborhoods doing intakes on the affected families, trucks loaded with boxes of items came and were hand delivered to the people. Knowing that our work in the warehouse went straight to the families the same day, gave me a good feeling.

Carl Piehl, Director of Financial Stability
“I participated in three relief projects. The first night there were about 100 volunteers assembling care packages consisting of personal hygiene and household cleaning products. We must have assembled several hundred boxes.  The next day we went into a low income neighborhood where the flooding had occurred. Neighbors told me that the water had risen very quickly. In a very short time they were unable to move their cars and within several hours, the water was chest high. People could do nothing more than escape with their lives. They couldn’t bring any belongings. They had to float their children or carry them over their heads as they searched for higher ground. It sounded like a nightmare. We went to unload and distribute a large truck of supplies that had come from some amazing people in Steubenville, Ohio. As soon as we started unloading, we were surrounded by the residents of the neighborhood. They were tired and weary from their ordeal but greeted us with smiles and expressions of gratitude. Everyone had suffered losses but they all seemed to share the same resolve: to fix what needed fixing and get on with their lives. The next day we went to an even poorer neighborhood where nearly all the homes had been completely ruined. We brought in two truckloads of relief supplies and canvassed the area looking for those who had returned to their homes. We collected names and phone numbers so that they could be contacted about ongoing needs.

I worked alongside CCUSA board members, executive directors from other Catholic Charities agencies, and even Sr. Donna Markham (CCUSA CEO). We were all there to help those who needed it most. What I took away from the experience was the knowledge that these disasters can happen to anyone. It takes an enormous effort and resources to respond to disasters and that there are thousands of great people that want to help. I’m grateful that I was able to do something to help.  Mother Teresa said “of ourselves we can do no great things, but only small things with great love.”

In addition to helping during the Annual Gathering, CCUSA has donated to date over $2 million to the Houston area. Disaster relief efforts are still going on in all areas affected by this season’s hurricanes. You can make a donation at - 100% of funds raised are going to those affected. •

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