Bishop William F. Medley speaks at the Oct. 3, 2022 house dedication and ribbon cutting for the new home of Rickie and Bridget Filback in Hartford, Ky. The Filbacks’ house was destroyed in the Dec. 10, 2021 tornadoes. COURTESY OF FR. JULIO BARRERA
‘No doubt there’s a God’
Catholic Charities celebrates first completed house post-tornadoes
BY ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD, THE WESTERN KENTUCKY CATHOLIC
Bridget Filback has always believed in God.
But “what I believe now is that God spared us for a reason. Now we’re just waiting to see what it is,” said Filback, who with her husband, Rickie, survived the Dec. 10, 2021 tornadoes that devastated western Kentucky and destroyed the couple’s Hartford, Ky., home.
On Oct. 3, 2022, emotions ran high as the Filbacks celebrated the dedication and ribbon cutting for their new house – built not far from the location of their former house.
This new home is the first of what will be many rebuilt through the disaster relief work of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Owensboro and other community organizations.
Joey Hazelwood, project manager for the long-term recovery group of Ohio County – where Hartford is located – said after the dedication ceremony that “we couldn’t have done it without Catholic Charities.”
In surveying the projected costs and the materials needed for impacted homes in the county, “we didn’t know how we were going to do it. Then I met Katina,” he said.
Katina Hayden, Catholic Charities’ director of disaster case management, was attending one of Ohio County’s long-term recovery group meetings when she encountered Hazelwood.
Hayden told him Catholic Charities could help meet these needs – that’s what Catholic Charities’ disaster relief is about, after all – and the rest was history.
Hazelwood said his team broke ground for the Filbacks’ new house on March 21. Over the following months, his team and hundreds of skilled volunteers from across the U. S. worked hard to provide the Filbacks with a new place to call home.
“I’ve seen amazing things these past six months,” said Hazelwood, “it’s hard to explain… one of the best things is all the people we’ve gotten to meet” who have helped with rebuilding.
He said a volunteer group came from South Carolina over the summer – “it was hot!” – and even after they left, “they still text me every week, asking how things are going.”
Hazelwood has been moved by the committed work of Mennonite Disaster Service, whose members travel from all over the United States to rebuild homes impacted by natural disasters.
“They do a lot of good work that isn’t really publicized,” he said. “They are some of the greatest volunteers we get.”
Susan Montalvo-Gesser, director of Catholic Charities, said skyrocketing prices have challenged efforts to rebuild and repair.
“It went from costing $80,000 per house (to rebuild) to $130,000 per house,” she said. Still, they remain hopeful and grateful to those who have continued to donate.
“Those people who are willing to give the most are those who’ve been there,” she said. “People from the northeast with Hurricane Sandy… from the south with Hurricane Katrina… from California with the wildfires.”
Bishop William F. Medley, who was also present at the dedication and blessed the Filbacks’ home, said that he was proud to be there.
“I’ve never been through anything like this before,” he said of the tornadoes, “which is probably true of all of us here.”
The day after the storms, his phone started ringing with calls from Catholic organizations and churches from all over the nation.
“How can we help?” they all asked, to which Bishop Medley responded, “To be honest with you I don’t know, but we’re going to figure that out.”
The bishop explained to the crowd gathered at the Filbacks’ home, many of whom were not Catholic, that “there’s an organization called Catholic Charities USA that serves as an umbrella organization.”
“(Catholic Charities USA) sent someone to us that week and said ‘this is how you begin to get organized; this is how you go into communities that have been harmed; this is how you reach out to the people who have been harmed and begin to envision rebuilding,’” recalled Bishop Medley.
He also credited the ecumenical efforts of fellow Christians in the community, especially Baptist churches and Methodist churches, who collaborated with Catholic Charities to lend a hand.
In sprinkling the Filbacks’ home with holy water, the bishop prayed for all impacted by natural disasters.
“We pray in a special way today for all of the thousands of people throughout western Kentucky whose lives were damaged by this storm,” said Bishop Medley. “We pray for our neighbors in eastern Kentucky whose lives have been damaged by the horrific floods; and for our neighbors throughout the country affected last week by the hurricanes.”
As of Sept. 30, the Diocese of Owensboro has been gifted with approximately $9.3 million to assist in tornado recovery efforts.
Catholic Charities looks forward to rebuilding more homes as they continue serving hundreds of clients who were affected by the tornadoes. Their goal remains to rebuild 350 homes in the next three to five years, and they welcome ongoing donations as well as skilled labor volunteers. More information about that may be accessed at owensborodiocese.org/tornado-relief-resources.
For their part, Filback and her husband remain overwhelmed with gratitude for the hundreds of people who helped them: “There’s no doubt in my mind that there’s a God,” she repeated.
“He did all this,” she said, gesturing around her beautiful new home.