As thousands of residents pick up the pieces from more than 300 tornadoes that sliced through the southern part of the United States, Knights in the battered city of Tuscaloosa, Ala. are creating a safety net for those who have little or nothing to support them after losing their homes, loved ones or any general sense of stability. At Holy Spirit Catholic Church, a Hispanic roundtable sponsored by Tuscaloosa Council 4083 is gathering and distributing food and clothing while also maintaining a shelter that houses about 20 families.
When the April 27 tornadoes made their mark on Tuscaloosa, they ripped through neighborhoods both rich and poor, leveling some blocks while preserving others nearby. The storms were part of a month-long string of tornadoes that splintered buildings and tossed both houses and vehicles hundreds of yards. With 190-mph winds that caused severe damage, one tornado raged through a largely Hispanic Tuscaloosa neighborhood known as Alberta City.
"It became obvious to the Hispanic community that they had no place to go, at all," said Steve Griffin, a member of the council who saw the relief center come together. Hispanics make up about 3 percent of Tuscaloosa's population of about 90,000 people. Of that, most attend Holy Spirit Church. Although the parish didn't have any type of emergency plan in place, Knights soon began collecting food and clothing to pass along to those in need.
And while there are other shelters in the city, the small Hispanic community has come to trust the Knights who created the Spanish-speaking roundtable at Holy Spirit Church two years ago. "It's become a beacon," Griffin said.
Knights in Iowa and North Carolina had earlier begun similar efforts when tornadoes struck their states, as the Supreme Council and a number of jurisdictions quickly sent aid.
In reaction to the damage caused by the Alabama tornadoes, the Supreme Council authorized a $20,000 donation from the Order’s disaster assistance fund to the Alabama State Council to provide immediate assistance to members and their families, as well as affected parishes, for food, shelter and other urgent needs.
The Order is also ready to help affected policy owners recover from this disaster. In Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and North Carolina, the grace period for premium payments to be made before cancellation has been extended up to 30 days. Policy owners in those states should contact their agent with questions, or call our Customer Care Center at 1-800-380-9995. Owners of permanent life insurance policies can request a loan against their cash value in emergency situations. Loans do accrue interest and diminish the death benefit of the policy until they are repaid back, but cash can be there if needed. Policy documents lost in the disaster can also be replaced. Knights of Columbus Insurance agents and general agents are available to help, or place a call to the Customer Care Center.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with our brother Knights, their families, and all the people who fell victim to these highly destructive tornadoes in Alabama. It is our hope that the money allocated from the disaster fund, will help alleviate some of the suffering of the people in these areas,” said Supreme Knight Carl Anderson. “Also, I’d like to praise the efforts of our Alabama Knights who are doing so much to ease the distress of those people affected by this disaster.”
One such Knight is Victor Tlapanco is orchestrating the center's efforts to feed, clothe and house the people who show up at the Alabama church. He found that his fellow Hispanics were not going to the shelters that were already established, their biggest fear being that since they lost everything, they no longer had any documentation. He went to them and said, "You are in need, come to Holy Spirit Catholic Church. The Knights of Columbus are here to help our Catholic community in this situation."
Tlapanco also emphasized that the shelter is open to anyone — not just Hispanic or Spanish-speaking residents. Help for the Hispanic community "was a starting point," he said. "But that doesn't mean we’re not helping Anglos or African American people. We are helping the whole community."
Since deciding on providing services, the initiative has expanded from the Knight's hall to the parish hall to the gymnasium of Holy Spirit School next door. People come in for clothes, meals, candles and water, which is in short supply. Several local restaurants are also providing food for the shelter, which feeds about 250 people each day.