Catholic Charities organizes long-term recovery efforts in Eastern Oklahoma

Published by: Eastern Oklahoma Magazine
Written by: Mason Beecroft

Sael and Inocencia Macareno moved from Porter to Fort Gibson in 1990 and bought a small home there in the middle of Greenleaf Nursery just south of Fort Gibson. That same year, their daughter, Blanca, was born and their second daughter, Evan, arrived in 1992. Family members then started to join them to work as arborists or in other outdoor labor jobs. Their community eventually grew to 17 mobile homes and 15 families, all members of St. Joseph Parish in Muskogee. 

Before the recent flooding, Evan Monsivais, who is married to Jose Monsivais, said that their close-knit community was full of children playing and it was always bustling with activity. When the waters of the Arkansas recently reached historic flood levels, however, their entire community was reduced to a ghost town. These families lost nearly everything in the flood.“We were all flooded out of our homes. Most of us are now staying at homes in Muskogee that have been offered to us by members of St. Joseph Parish,” shared Evan. “We have been fortunate with all of the help that has been offered to us. We were able to grab some clothes and the things that you could not replace like paperwork and pictures. Everything else is gone. You just never expect this to happen. You work so hard to make a life. Then your house is gone. It is heartbreaking.“But God is big. We thank Him that we were able to get out safely and the flooding did not happen overnight when we were asleep. This is just a tough phase of life we are going through, and we will come back stronger.”Liliana Carbone, director of Catholic Charities in Muskogee, has been hard at work to provide assistance for the Macareno family and other families affected by the recent flooding and storms. She has also been working with volunteers and other relief agencies to help coordinate the long-term recovery effort. Liliana is part of a team of professionals and volunteers that work for Catholic Charities Centers in Eastern Oklahoma that initially helped with emergency food and clothing relief and getting people to shelters. They are now busy helping these victims rebuild their lives.

Typically, Liliana works out of the Catholic Charities office in Muskogee, a small building on the west side of town that is now being expanded to meet the needs of the people in the community. Catholic Charities in Muskogee pro-vides emergency food and baby items such as clothes, diapers, and formula. With the recent flooding and storms, however, she has been traveling throughout Eastern Oklahoma to help connect flood victims with the resources they need. After spending two days in the Fort Gibson area, Liliana went with volunteers from Catholic Charities to a relief assistance center at First Baptist Church in Warner to work with flood victims from the Webber’s Falls area. She said that the hours have been long and demanding. “I have been going home so exhausted that I could not talk anymore,” she said. “But I always love to help people in need and to serve them. It is very rewarding.”Originally from Argentina, Liliana and her family have been active members at St. Joseph in Muskogee since 2001. In addition to serving as the director of Catholic Charities in Muskogee, she is a religious education teacher and the coordinator of religious education for St. Joseph. She said that she has been impressed with the generous response from the Catholic community in Eastern Oklahoma.“When we started to learn how bad the flooding was, people immediately started donating food and money,” she said. “People have been very charitable, and the Church has also been very responsible. There are so many amazing stories about how people have come to help. It really helps my own faith when I see how other people respond to people in need.“Our main focus is long-term recovery,” she continued. “Anybody who comes through the door looking for help, we are here to provide assistance. We assign a caseworker for them and help them fill out the proper paperwork to determine their needs so we can help them find the necessary food, medicine, or clothes. Or we can refer them to other agencies that are able to better assist them.”Director of Eastern Oklahoma Out-reach Disaster Relief, MaryLynn Lufkin, said that they are stressing the need for donations to their Disaster Relief Fund to help with recovery efforts.“These funds can help tremendously as our main focus at Catholic Charities is long-term case management that will connect people to the resources they need. Catholic Charities in Eastern Oklahoma plans to be there for the client to walk with them and help them recover as fully as possible.“It has been really beneficial to have Catholic Charities Outreach Centers in so many locations throughout the impacted areas,” she added. “This has given us the advantage to be able to deliver goods needed right where we are already set up. For example, our locations in Poteau, Sallisaw, Muskogee, and Broken Arrow have been able to serve those affected in their own towns more efficiently. Many are already familiar with where we are located and can come in to get the help they need locally.”