Diana Snouffer, a parishioner at St. Mary’s in Barnesville, anxiously watched the weather channel that day. The eye of Hurricane Matthew passed directly over the people she had grown to love in Carcasse, Haiti on Oct. 4.
“I wanted to cry, and I did,” she said. Snouffer, who has been to Haiti six times, belongs to one of several parishes in the Archdiocese of Washington who “twin” or partner with Haitian parishes and communities located in areas heavily damaged by the storm.
St. Joseph’s Church, the parish St. Mary’s has called its “twin” parish for the past eight years is a remote coastal village that St. Mary’s supports with money and materials.
Father Kevin O’Reilly, pastor of St. Mary’s, said parishioners “were depressed, they were crying,” when they heard the extent of the damage, but newly committed to raising money for their friends who lost nearly everything.
“The situation is dire … They basically lost everything, and now the fear will be cholera,” Father Kevin said.
Snouffer said most people from the village were now waiting for emergency aid relief to arrive, and it’s unclear how much food and water they have, as most crops were destroyed in the hurricane.
In a letter sent to archdiocesan priests on Oct. 11, Washington Auxiliary Bishop Barry Knestout asked that priests take a special collection to help hurricane-affected areas, including Haiti.
“It’s estimated that more than 20,000 Haitians live in the Washington metropolitan area, and many of them are our parishioners and neighbors. Additionally, more than a dozen of our parishes have ties with Haiti through medical mission and twinning relationships,” he wrote.
Mary Julia Bailey, a parishioner of St. John the Baptist Church in Silver Spring that has twinned with St. Pierre Church in Baradères, Haiti for about 20 years, said parishioners were “shocked,” when they heard of the devastation.
Father Jean Phillippe, the pastor of St. Pierre, wrote a letter published in St. John the Baptist’s Oct. 16 bulletin saying, “As pastor of a desperate people, I don’t see how we are going to be able to survive … The water was as high as the ceiling in the rectory. All the houses were underwater. Hurricane Matthew left us empty-handed.”
St. John the Baptist’s Director of Social Concerns Cynthia Norris, wrote in an Oct. 16 letter to parishioners that some medical aid had arrived in Baradères. She added that St. John the Baptist’s unique knowledge of the region could be the “basis to an early recovery,” for the community, and they would be collecting monetary donations to support this effort.
Christie Anne Short, principal of St. Patrick’s School in Rockville, said people were “especially generous” with their volunteer time and money at St. Patrick’s annual yard sale to benefit Haiti on Oct. 15-16.
The money raised from the sale typically benefits a community in the village of Montrouis, Haiti, but this year it will also go to neighboring communities affected by the hurricane.
Short said news coverage of their event also prompted “a lot of donations to come in … people have stopped by and handed in checks. These are people from inside and outside our (parish and school) community … people are very generous in times like this.”
Short said the yard sale raised $46,000 and it was “the work of many hands.”
Parishioners from both St. Mary’s and nearby Our Lady of the Presentation in Poolesville quickly put together a bake and yard sale on Oct. 15 in Poolesville. They raised about $3,400 for their twin parish, but they need “many more generous donations” to help them rebuild, a process that will likely take years, said Susan Jamison, a St. Mary’s parishioner who helped organize the sale.
Jo Evans, a St. Mary’s parishioner volunteering at the sale, said of the efforts to help the Haitian community, “This is what faith is all about. God tells us many times to love thy neighbor … Isn’t this what Jesus did when He walked the Earth?”
Kitty Fitzgerald, a parishioner of Holy Trinity Church in Washington that partners with St. Jean Baptiste Church in Anse d’Hainault, Haiti, said last weekend there was an “overwhelming response by the parish and school” to their annual clothing and toy drive to help their twin parish.
“It should have been small, but it turned into a big one … everyone wants to help,” she said, adding that many parishioners have additionally donated to Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. Catholic Church’s international relief agency, and are now assessing how to best help their twin parish recover from the damage.
Snouffer, a member of the St. Mary’s Haiti committee, also encouraged people to pray for their Haitian friends to remain strong, and donate “from your heart, what you can.”
Donations can be sent to a local parish with connections in Haiti. In addition to St. Mary’s in Barnesville, Holy Trinity in Washington, St. Patrick’s in Rockville, and St. John the Baptist in Silver Spring, there are also twinning relationships in Haiti with other parishes including St. Francis of Assisi in Derwood, St Teresa of Avila in Washington, Jesus the Good Shepherd in Owings and St. Bernadette in Silver Spring.
Patti Bohr, director of the St. Mary’s Brides for Haiti ministry, said her parish also raises money for Carcasse by consigning wedding and prom gown donations.
“A lot of times these dresses just sit,” she said. To donate a dress, email Bohr at firstname.lastname@example.org .