Rubble surrounding a church that has visible storm damage.
September 13, 2020

Doubling Down on Derecho Devastation

How Catholic Order of Foresters’ Home Office Team supported its neighbors to the West.

Driving down Highway 151 during an Iowa summer presents some of the most beautiful sights the Midwest has to offer. Lush corn fields, perfect blue skies, open winding roads, views for miles, and even some billboards advertising something so unique and enticing, you are drawn to take the next exit and explore it for yourself.

The derecho that struck Iowa — and other parts of the Midwest — on August 10, 2020, changed the landscape. Millions of acres of crops destroyed, skies (though now calm) appear to be beautifully oblivious to the destruction below, roads closed as a result of downed power lines and broken decades-old trees, and devastation for miles. And those billboards? Well, some are illegible – if they are visible at all.

At Catholic Order of Foresters, we saw a need and knew we could support not only our members in need, but also Catholics and other community members in the Cedar Rapids area. These communities suffered unimaginable damage. The power was out for several days (though linemen from around the country were working around the clock to restore it) and dozens even endured two weeks and more without power.1 Schools were so damaged that some buildings were uninhabitable (pushing back the start date of school to September 21).2 On August 26, the Fraternal Outreach Team hit the road to help.

The first stops were the Catherine McAuley Center and St. John of the Cross Catholic Worker House, both in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Over the previous week, the Catholic Order of Foresters (COF) Home Office Team collected $215, three cases of bottled water, five packages of diapers, five packages of wipes and 20 one-gallon jugs of water. Both organizations, which are Catholic, are actively aiding those most in need in Cedar Rapids. The Catherine McAuley Center normally provides housing and assistance to refugee families and women in need, but following the derecho, they opened their doors to all who needed emergency housing. Less than a month after opening a brand-new building, the McAuley Center had to return to their previous site due to severe storm damage on the new building. Within days, they were able to open the original building as a shelter for all. At the Catholic Worker House, a shelter and donation pantry, there was immediate joy when we called them to ask if we could donate the cases and many gallons of water. “Thank you! Thank you so much! This is so kind!” excitedly cried Rauna, one of the permanent residents, who also took some extra 2019 Feeding God’s Children T-shirts we had.        

On August 27, we made another very important stop. After the Fraternal Outreach Team spoke with members in Iowa, one town kept coming up: Norway. This town of 545 people, mostly farmers, had been devastated by the storm. The Catholic Church in town, St. Michael, lost its 125-year-old steeple, suffered severe roof damage, and is unable to be used for Mass for the foreseeable future. Following months of being unable to attend Mass due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this was a substantial spiritual setback for the community. Fraternal Outreach Coordinator Michael Cesario reached out to the local court, St. Joseph 1360, to see how COF could help. After collaborating with CEO and President Greg Temple, it was announced that COF would donate $5,000 from the Welfare and Relief Fund to St. Michael Church to be used for reconstruction of the church and other needs the parish saw in the community. The late High Chief Ranger Richard Tobin established this fund to allocate money for fraternal good. Kaitlynrose Bicek presented the check to Fr. Craig Steimel (a member of St. Mary 1234, Waterloo, Iowa), St. Joseph 1360 Chief Ranger Beth Hagge and St. Joseph 1360 Recording Secretary Richard Hagge. Member Lori Hagge also attended the presentation. All three members presented a check to Fr. Steimel from the local court fund as well. Father was very appreciative and grateful. “I will keep you informed how we use it!” he added as we departed.

COF made a monetary donation to St. Michael Church in Norway, Iowa. St. Joseph 1360 Chief Ranger Beth Hagge (center) and Recording Secretary Richard Hagge (right) present the check to Fr. Craig Steimel.

Driving from Norway to Cedar Rapids, the roads were lined with fields of destroyed corn. Trees hung into the road and scratched nearly every vehicle that passed as some spots were too narrow to avoid the branches. It was heart-wrenching to see so many lives shaken, so many businesses without opportunities, and so much total devastation. Yet, there was so much hope. There were people everywhere you looked, helping, cleaning, and consoling each other. It was palpable that Iowa was stronger than this devastation. But there was still one stop left.  

We wore Feeding God’s Children T-shirts to sort items in the donations room at the Willis Dady Emergency Shelter, a place with a mission to provide shelter and prevention services to the homeless and near-homeless.3 But this effort — and the entire trip — was more than a Feeding God’s Children event. We were doing our part to aid in the derecho devastation, and it had a lot of parts! We sorted boxes and bags of items including food, deodorant, shower gel, towels, socks and more. As we stacked the nearly full shelves, we were conflicted with feelings of joy as a result of the kind donations and feelings of fear as we hoped nothing would topple over. Through this small effort of sorting items, we supported the homeless and nearly homeless in the area, some of whom arrived at the shelter because the derecho destroyed their homes.

As we departed the shelter, all we could pray for was that the work we had done would provide some relief to those impacted by the storm. Through our donations and labor, our effort was a drop in the bucket for the recovery Iowa will need. But St. Teresa of Kolkata once said, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”

Let us all create many ripples to help those in need.

Article by Katlyn Pischel and Kaitlynrose Bicek