Local Parishes Assisting Kentucky Flood Victims
“Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” – Matthew 25:40
Editor’s Note: Recently, “The Accent on Air” featured a story on the Kentucky Project, an outreach by parishioners at St. Barbara Parish in Harrison City and Mother of Sorrows Parish in Murrysville. Recent flooding in Kentucky has been devastating to those in need. This is an update on the efforts to continue to assist those who have been devastated by the recent floods.
By Melissa Williams Brown
Photos from Kentucky provided by Barb and Al (Skip) Kustra of St. Barbara Parish
HARRISON CITY – The stories told from those who live in small rural Appalachian communities like Campton, Ky. are difficult to listen to, where tiny mission Catholic churches with maybe 15 parishioners have lost almost everything after flood waters swept through their modest dwellings in late July.
Entire homes and parts of small communities were swept away. The death toll continues to rise and many are still missing from the historic flooding where 14-16 inches of rain fell during a five-day period.
Yet, the Catholic presence is exceptional, and prayer has helped them through tragedy.
Most families don’t own a car, have little money or flood insurance. The closest Walmart and McDonald’s are an hour away in Lexington, Ky.
While at work, a Jackson, Ky., mother of five couldn’t make it home. Her children and 1-year-old grandchild were rescued by fire department personnel. Their temporary home was a tent.
More than 700 families in Jackson lost their homes, not counting other communities. Twenty-eight died and two are missing.
Knowing that the small, rural and poor communities of eastern Kentucky needed supplies, St. Barbara’s Kentucky Project has again stepped up.
Work had already been under way since 2006 through the Kentucky Project, an outreach ministry dedicated to Christ’s command to feed the hungry. Driven by the Holy Spirit, the mission is to physically and spiritually nourish the poor and marginalized families with children in southeastern Kentucky. The goal is to improve their current environment and future opportunities by showing them the love and care of God through ongoing support.
Organization of the group started after a talk to parishioners from Sister Alice on Mission Sunday about the dire need for help in Kentucky. This followed with a small Lenten faith sharing discussion about helping those in Kentucky. The group shows them the love of Christ through ongoing assistance and support.
They initially started their work in Beattyville, Ky., delivering a truckload of emergency items like industrial trash bags, diapers and cleaning supplies.
The project was also coordinated by former pastor Msgr. V. Paul Fitzmaurice. Al Kustra, parishioner and an organizer of the group, asked fellow parishioners and the community for help on social media. In record time, their 48-foot long front porch was filled with necessary supplies to take to Kentucky.
“Every time we need help, God always provides,” said Barb Kustra.
Al Kustra is a retired Harrison City postmaster and Barb is retired from a medical transcriptionist company. They often wonder how they ever worked their full-time jobs.
The Rev. Michael Sikon, pastor, St. Barbara Parish, has been very supportive of the Kentucky Project, as were former pastors, the Rev. Kenneth G. Zaccagnini and parochial vicars like the Rev. Matthew Morrelli, who went to Kentucky with the group to help.
A blessing for the group was collaboration with Christian Layman Corp. in Greensburg to provide help to those who need it most in West Virginia and Kentucky. The support is in the form of prayers, food, clothing, furniture books and compassion.
For two years, two 70-pound boxes were initially shipped by U.S. Postal Service from the Kentucky Project until the group collaborated with Christian Layman.
A truck is packed once a month on Wednesdays from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and driven to Kentucky on Thursdays. There are currently 22 families being supported. The truck is packed with donated clothing, household items, furniture, toys and personal care products provided by St. Barbara Parish and the surrounding communities. Only one trip was canceled during the coronavirus pandemic. The next trip is scheduled for Sept. 22.
Teens from St. Barbara and Mother of Sorrows Parish in Murrysville also helped without question. They gave up part of their summer to help those already affected after they lost almost everything when flooding destroyed most of what they have. It was a collaborative effort between Christie Smith, former director of Youth Ministry and Kirsten Thorstad, parish administrator at Church of the Good Shepherd Parish in Campton. They went to graduate school together and all the pieces fell together.
The need continues, particularly with the devastating flooding.
Monetary donations and beds are greatly appreciated to help offset the cost of gasoline and beds. One truckload will hold 28 mattresses and box springs. Countless beds were destroyed in the flooding.
Al Kustra said with the high gasoline prices, monetary donations are appreciated. What once cost $250 down and back to Kentucky is now close to $600.
He said it’s difficult to see the devastation.
“They have very little. What they do have has been wiped out.”