St. Augustine Catholic Charities leader: Hurricane recovery could take another year

PETER.WILLOTT@STAUGUSTINE.COM St. Augustine Catholic Charities volunteers Mark Shelley and Charley Gaiss pack food Wednesday for people in need.

While Hurricane Matthew has been mostly forgotten for many St. Johns County residents, local nonprofit leaders say the cumulative damage from the storm is still hurting many people here.


Mary Kelley Kryzwick, the director of the St. Augustine regional office of Catholic Charities, said her agency has already distributed about $62,000 in direct assistance to those affected by the hurricane.

And that is on top of the money paid out by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, insurance companies and other organizations.

Catholic Charities has helped 175 families, and Kryzwick said many of them were not clients normally served by the charity.

“We’ve really tried to reach out to the community to help those that wouldn’t normally come to Catholic Charities, maybe wouldn’t even know what our services are because they’ve always been the one to give,” she said. “They’ve not ever been on this side of it where they maybe needed just a little bit of help.”

Although most — but certainly not all — businesses have rebounded and tourism is surging again, there are still a lot of individuals struggling to get back to normal.

Some people have exhausted savings because they were out of work due to businesses being flooded out. Some people have been stuck making home repairs without insurance or haven’t settled claims yet. And there are others who lost their homes to flood or wind damage and are paying more for shelter than they’re used to.

“We’re continuing to hear from the public that they have yet to come to resolution with their insurance companies or FEMA, so they’re really between a rock and a hard place,” said Melissa Nelson, CEO and president of the United Way of St. Johns County.

Kryzwick said she worries about families that have been forced from their homes and are paying both rent and mortgages while repairs are done. It’s is a situation that can sink a family that was previously financially sound.

Catholic Charities can help those people before they get into a crisis situation.

“You have some very proud individuals in this county who are very proud and feel that there are other people who need it more than they do,” Kryzwick said. “We have certainly helped people that we woudn’t normally have seen come through the doors at Catholic Charities.”

St. Augustine Mayor Nancy Shaver said there’s no issue with awareness of ongoing hurricane-related issues within the city even as spring approaches.

Several city employees are dealing with serious repairs or rebuilds of their personal residences. In the city, it’s almost impossible not to at least know someone directly affected by the storm.

“I think there are people in different stages of recovery,” Shaver said. “Everybody’s in a different place that was hit by it. Nobody at the city thinks this is over and done.”

The most common problem people bring to Shaver’s attention, she said, is that of squabbles with insurance companies over coverage or amount of a claim.

But for those who are trying to meet their basic needs, Shaver said she hopes they know help is available through organizations like the United Way or Catholic Charities.

There are options for people who still need help, Kryzwick said.

Recovery from something as dramatic as the hurricane is expected to take as long as 12-18 months, she added. So it’s not necessarily surprising that Catholic Charities is still finding residents in need and seeing its food bank getting more use than usual.

It’s the kind of service her organization is there to provide, she said. Kryzwick would rather be busy than have people not get what they need just because they are afraid to ask or don’t know where to turn.

“I foresee us continuing to do long-term recovery for another year,” Kryzwick said. “The anticipation is 12 to 18 months after the disaster we’re still going to be assisting individuals and families that are still struggling to get back into their homes.

“We are still providing hurricane assistance. We’re here for those that are in need. We’re more than happy to work with individuals.”