Hurricane season: Church as first responder in Latin America, Caribbean
October 04, 2012 at 11:25 AM
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (CNS) -- On the little islands that make up the Caribbean's Lesser Antilles, there is not much in the way of protection from the annual wrath of the Atlantic hurricane season.
Every year from hurricane season's start on June 1 until the end of peak months -- August through October -- the islands are like sitting ducks. It's a threat that Marcia Boxhill-Haywood, regional coordinator for Caritas Antilles, confronts with meager tools: a $40,000 emergency fund, a small staff that mans a warehouse in St. Lucia and a handful of volunteers. Responding to hurricanes 'goes right to the heart of what the church does because storms don't just destroy buildings, they really destroy families and communities,' Boxhill-Haywood said. 'In these emergencies, the church caters to everyone that's in need, not just Catholics. We serve all denominations.'
Catholic dioceses across the Caribbean, Central America and Mexico are on the front line during hurricane season. They shelter residents during storms and serve as first responders after they have passed, handing out food, water and medicine and helping residents rebuild their lives. Yet, preparing for the potential damage to church buildings and the financial strain of feeding mouths and housing displaced residents remains a challenge. With funds in short supply, Catholic leaders said they coordinate more closely with governments and other institutions and rely on volunteers and neighboring dioceses to fill gaps. 'It's difficult because there is a lack of resources and a lack of staff,' Boxhill-Haywood said. 'Putting funds into preparation for hurricanes is not on the front burner.'