On Thursday, May 21st, a F1 tornado touched down in Columbus County. At the time, 12-year-old Elmer Hernandez was alone in the home which was destroyed. He hid in one of the only rooms that was left intact and was unharmed. Reflecting back on that day, Elmer stated, “When I realized what was happening, I thought about how God was the only one who could keep me safe, so I prayed to him and was kept safe.”
Elmer’s grandparents and family were able to recover some of their belongings and continued to live in the destroyed home, which they covered with tarps. That’s when the local community stepped in. First, a local family lent Elmer’s family an RV which they lived in until a more permanent solution was found. Rev. Sam Loy of Lake Waccamaw United Methodist Church then led the effort to find a more permanent home for the family.
Catholic Charities, along with other local faith groups, contributed in a variety ways. Consuelo Kwee, the Catholic Charities Director of Disaster Services recalls how, “Representatives from the United Methodist Church let us know about how this family had lost their home. We had worked with the United Methodist Church on disasters in the past and wanted to help this family as well.” Over the next few months, over $30,000 was raised to purchase and install a new mobile home.
Emilie Hart, the Catholic Charities Coastal Regional Director relayed her excitement at seeing the new mobile home, “It took a while for all of the pieces to come together for this family. I am just happy that Catholic Charities was able to be a part of helping the Elmer’s family move into a safe home environment again.”
On Sunday, November 22nd, approximately fifty neighbors and community representatives attended a house blessing for the Lopez family. The event began with a welcome and introduction led by Rev. Loy. An opening prayer was then followed by the lighting of a candle by Patricia Gutierrez, the Catholic Charities family case manager involved in the project. The candle represented the Holy Spirit being with the family and all those who helped to rebuild. While lighting the candle, Mrs. Gutierrez explained that, “The light of this candle symbolizes hope after challenging times.”
This momentous occasion was capped off with Elmer’s grandparents signing the title of their new home. The event concluded with the entire family thanking their neighbors and community for the emotional, physical, and financial support which they received. Mrs. Hart stated that, “Today showed that the impossible can be accomplished when a community comes together with no agenda other than helping a neighbor. It was a true depiction of collaboration and love for your neighbor.”