Member Agency Story
The Aftermath of Raging Waters in Colorado Reveals the Powerful Collaboration Behind Catholic Charities Disaster Response
Following the devastating floods in Colorado in September 2013, Catholic Charities USA and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Denver entered into a powerful collaboration to meet the immediate needs of disaster survivors and chart a course of recovery for the long term.
At the September 2013 Catholic Charities USA Annual Gathering in San Francisco, days after the floods began, Kim Burgo, senior director of disaster services for CCUSA, encouraged Larry Smith, president and CEO of Catholic Charities in Denver, that the agency mobilize to address daily needs of flood survivors—such as water, blankets, cleaning and hygiene supplies, as well as gift cards to buy food and other necessities.
Then Burgo and Katie Oldaker, director of disaster services for CCUSA, traveled to Denver to help the agency manage their disaster response effort. They went with Smith to northern Colorado to survey the damage and visit affected communities. They guided the agency in setting up and supplying four flood relief distribution centers and trained the Colorado staff in incident command structures, situation reports and other needed procedures.
CCUSA was “indispensable,” said Smith. “They brought a tremendous amount of experience, yet filled any role we needed with humility. They were mentors and helped guide us in the right direction. [We were] able to step up and do some amazing things.”
Catholic Charities in Denver was also grateful to accept the help of multiple case managers and staff sent from Catholic Charities agencies in Broome County, New York and Camden, New Jersey. These loaned staff members stayed for weeks, assisting in any way needed.
With help from the Catholic Charities network, Catholic Charities in Denver carried out an effective response. In addition to the distribution centers, the agency handed out close to $100,000 in gift cards and more than $150,000 of in-kind support. They mobilized the Archdiocese’s northern parishes. Forty employees put in 1,800 hours in two weeks, just on flood relief, while doing all their other ministries. Further, 100 volunteers put in more than 1,000 hours.
CCUSA granted $1.8 million to Catholic Charities of Denver for long-term recovery assistance in the wake of the disaster. Unprecedented flooding began the week of Sept. 8, 2013. The relentless rain dumped 17 inches in some areas, demolishing homes, businesses and highways across more than a dozen counties. The floods forced about 12,000 people to evacuate from mountain communities, cities and farms in northern Colorado, some fleeing with only the clothes on their backs. Eight people were killed.