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Deluge of furniture aids Paterson flood victims

Households devastated by April floods helped by Catholic Charities


They're only a few pieces of gently used furniture - a living room set and a few dressers. But these modest furnishings are a godsend to Morningstar, a Paterson resident whose house was heavily damaged by floodwaters after a mighty nor'easter tore through northern New Jersey in April.

Last week, Morningstar (last name withheld) came to the 410 Straight St. warehouse of Straight & Narrow substance-abuse program here to pick up the generous donation of the "new" used furniture, part of a large furniture give-away to dozens of households devastated by flooding, as coordinated by diocesan Catholic Charities.

The furniture also represents a new beginning for Morningstar, whose basement and first-floor were flooded by the storm. Destroyed were belongings in the woman's living room and bedroom and in the bedroom of one of her sons. She shares the home with another son, a stepdaughter and a brother.

"This (gift of furniture) means the world to me. Catholic Charities has really helped us," said Morningstar, who was rescued from her house by boat and stayed the week after the storms at Passaic County Community College. "Almost everything had been destroyed. I'm the only caregiver, so it's been really hard," she said.

Last Wednesday afternoon, Morningstar inspected her furniture selection in the warehouse of Straight & Narrow, a Catholic Charities agency, which donated the space for the furnishings give-way, coordinated by the Catholic Charities Disaster Response Team. The give-away was targeted for poor residents hardest hit by the storm and came together thanks to a committed team of local agencies and benefactors.

Morningstar was one of nearly 90 flooded-out Paterson residents who have received a deluge of ongoing help from Catholic Charities, said Rita Kelly, Catholic Charities disaster response director.

Catholic Charities staffers heard dozens of heartbreaking disaster stories like Morningstar's as they distributed thousands of dollars worth of used furniture to households devastated by flooding. The furnishings included sofas, dining room and living room sets, chairs, tables and lamps, said Kelly, also director of Catholic Charities Congregational Health Ministry.

Local residents who picked up furniture last week at Straight & Narrow were among 13,500 Garden State households affected by the more-powerful-than-anticipated storm, which is considered the second-worst rainstorm in state history. The nor'easter caused so much damage - estimated at least $180 million worth - that President Bush declared Bergen, Burlington, Essex, Passaic, Somerset, and Union counties federal disaster areas, stated the Church World Service (CWS), which donated supplies to Catholic Charities local flood-relief efforts.

On Wednesday, Friday and Saturday of last week, Catholic Charities distributed furnishings that were given to them by the Interfaith Furnishings of Randolph, which provides donated home furnishings to the needy. In a spirit of partnership, J.D. Carton & Son Inc. trucking company offered its transportation services. The service-minded company already had helped the diocese transport donated goods to hurricane-ravaged New Orleans, Kelly said.

"We are pleased to be able to help Catholic Charities out in that way (with a furniture donation)," said Dorrit Edwards, Interfaith Furnishings' associate director, noting that its sizable donation nearly emptied out its own warehouse.

Another big furniture donor, the Community Food Bank of New Jersey, Hillside, sent over to Catholic Charities an array of stylish furnishings that it procured from a local Marriott Hotel. CWS also donated cleaning supplies and packages for children that include toys, balls and school supplies, Kelly said.

Last week's furniture give-away is the latest in Catholic Charities' ongoing outreach to a roster of now up to 90 Paterson residents devastated by the flood - assistance that began soon after disaster had struck. Along with the United Way, the diocese has given affected families and individuals gift cards to stores for household goods and clothing, Kelly said.

Catholic Charities also has advocated for financial help on behalf of their clients to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other governmental agencies. The diocese also refers clients to the Passaic Division of Northeast Legal Services. With the United Way of Passaic County, Catholic Charities has been offering a volunteer service that cleans up flood damage in local residents' basements and homes, she said.

During the furniture give-away, Kelly was a walking public-service announcement, encouraging clients to meet the Monday, June 25 deadline to apply for FEMA loans. Many of them won't qualify for the loans, which most of them don't want anyway. But by applying, they might be eligible for other grants, she said.

"The flooding has made it difficult for people, especially the poor, to work and pay their bills," said Kelly, who said Catholic Charities has given flooded-out residents some cash assistance thanks to private donations and contributions from Catholic Charities USA. "People in the area are familiar with Catholic Charities. They feel comfortable coming to us when they are in need," she said.

Information: Rita Kelly, Catholic Charities' disaster response director, at (973) 279-7100, ext. 33.


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