KINGWOOD – Retirement was already a financial challenge for Lillene Luker. After Hurricane Harvey literally washed the former teacher’s home off its foundation near the banks of the San Jacinto River, retirement got a lot harder. Lillene, 64, takes care of her 85-year-old mother, who was also displaced by the flooding.
Lillene and other family members are among the many people who are still finding their way back to normal two years after Harvey flooded neighborhoods throughout southeast Texas. Families who had sufficient insurance and savings were among the first to recover, leaving behind countless others who didn’t have the financial resilience to bounce back.
In the two years after Harvey, the Disaster Recovery Program of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston served 22,221 people and continues to provide resources to households that have yet to return to pre-Harvey status. Many of the households that have yet to recover are more vulnerable populations such as seniors like Lillene, who lives on a fixed retirement income.
Because parishes – or churches – know their communities and routinely provide assistance to people in need, Catholic Charities provided $600,000 in grants for Harvey recovery to Catholic churches located in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. Nine parishes received grants, including St. Martha Catholic Church in Kingwood, where Lillene Luker requested help.
In trying to recover from Harvey, Lillene ran into endless red tape that prevented her from rebuilding her home as it was. She now lives on her property in a rented prefab structure that came without a kitchen or bathroom.
Through the Catholic Charities grant to St. Martha, Lillene made the temporary building into a home with new kitchen appliances and rental assistance. After all her battles with red tape, she was grateful that the grants made it so easy to get the help she needed: “St. Martha came out, looked, prayed, assessed and paid,” said Lillene.
In two years, St. Martha received a total of $100,000 in grants from Catholic Charities, with responsibility for identifying and helping people who suffered loss from Harvey. Olga Najar, director of social services at St. Martha, said, “I’m so happy to be a bridge to connect people with assistance.”
St. Martha’s social services program helps elderly, disabled and low income individuals in the Kingwood area, Porter and New Caney. The parish checks with clients to determine if they need assistance specifically for disaster recovery.
The grant program allows each parish to provide up to $2500 in assistance to an individual or family. Olga reports that recipients often refuse the full amount if they don’t need it all: “They ask us to use the rest of the money to help others who need it more.”
To make ends meet, Lillene left retirement to start working full-time again, this time as a home health care worker. She looks forward to the day when Harvey recovery is no longer an issue: “I go with the belief that things will work out.”
Individuals who still need assistance recovering from Harvey and who are not currently receiving help from another agency can call Catholic Charities’ Disaster Recovery Program: 713-874-6664.