Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Frigid weather brings challenges, chances to help others

By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published January 23, 2014

ATLANTA—Georgia’s record-breaking, polar temperatures in early January left some parishes in the archdiocese scrambling to fix broken pipes, and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul preparing for what’s to come.

Nine parishes reported burst water or sprinkler pipes in the days after the deep freeze the week of Jan. 6. Four claims have been filed, according to Alex Hagan, claims and risk manager for Catholic Mutual.

St. Marguerite d’Youville Church in Lawrenceville experienced the most water damage after a sprinkler pipe in a semi-insulated attic space broke.

“It’s obvious it was a freeze,” said Hagan.

Hagan said the water began to leak at the end of the church’s education building, farthest away from any staff office.

Hagan estimates that the sprinkler was leaking undetected for more than an hour at a rate of 150 gallons per minute.

The fire department came and shut off water to the church, with the water having seeped up to the narthex.

A restoration crew of 15 people came to clean up the water, and about two feet of sheetrock had to be removed in affected areas to prevent future issues with mold.

“There was so much water, they went ahead and did that,” said Hagan.

He estimated preliminary damages at $125,000 or higher.

Weekday and weekend Masses resumed normal schedules Friday, Jan. 17. RCIA, religious education and faith formation classes remained cancelled with St. Marguerite parishioners encouraged to check the church website at for updates.

Other parishes experiencing claimable damage were St. Peter the Rock Church in The Rock, Sacred Heart Church in Hartwell and Christ Our Hope Church in Lithonia.

Churches with lesser damage were Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Carrollton, St. Matthew Church in Winder, St. Joseph Church in Washington, Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Decatur, and Our Lady of the Americas Mission in Lilburn.

“I don’t know how they do it up north,” said Hagan.

 Aid agencies planning ahead

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul of Georgia and Catholic Charities Atlanta are preparing for another aftereffect of the cold snap—the hit on clients’ wallets. The Catholic Foundation of North Georgia works to provide grants to numerous ministries and programs that help Georgians avoid homelessness.

John Berry, chief executive officer of SVdP Georgia, said the biggest concern now is “potentially huge increases” in power or gas bills for families barely making it financially. He said the organization has made $50,000 available to the 73 local St. Vincent de Paul parish conferences to assist those in need with energy bills.

“It’s available for the conferences to draw on,” said Berry.

Donors can also designate gifts to the SVdP Emergency Energy Assistance Fund if they specifically want to address this issue. These funds will help many Georgians to keep their heat on during the remainder of winter.

St. Vincent de Paul is also prioritizing funds for the most financially needy areas where the parishes are smaller or the more rural areas with fewer resources to help people.

“We know our volunteers know” how to determine where the need is greatest, said Berry. St. Vincent de Paul’s conference volunteers conduct home visits and have those personal connections so they are aware whose home isn’t well insulated or that it’s time to check on the elderly woman on a fixed income.

In addition to direct financial aid to those in need, the society’s programs also include helping people with long-term issues such as job training or learning budgeting, Berry said.

Many end up going way overboard for Christmas on credit cards. For some people, that’s not a big deal.

“For other people … that can be a real crisis,” said Berry. “It causes them to fall further behind.”

SVDP also works closely with homeless shelters and other programs for the needy.

“We have incredible partnerships,” said Berry.

The Catholic Foundation of North Georgia’s 2013 Fall Grants program assisted many organizations that help keep families in their homes, provide transitional housing, or support existing homeless shelters.

Ministries receiving foundation grant money in December were Senior Connections, the Asian American Resource Center, Crossroads, Family Promise of Cobb County, Jerusalem House, Mercy Housing, and St. Andrew Church—St. Martin de Porres Ministry.

Family Promise of Cobb County, Marietta received $5,000 to support the hiring of a full-time director to start an emergency shelter for homeless families. The grant was awarded from the foundation’s Community Services Fund.

“Our mission is to serve homeless families,” said Hale Sanders, secretary of the Family Promise board of directors.

New director Camilla Worrell is currently screening five families for both immediate and transitional assistance. Sanders said these are families often living in their cars or in hotels. “I felt very concerned,” he said about the recent frigid temperatures.

Family Promise assists families with job searches, and how to spend money wisely.

“We’re getting so many applicants,” said Sanders.

Sandy Lashley of St. Andrew’s St. Martin de Porres Ministry said that Jan. 6 was their regular night to volunteer at the Central Night Shelter program operated in downtown Atlanta by the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and Central Presbyterian Church.

“We do a full dinner,” explained Lashley. Some parish volunteers stay overnight at the shelters.

Lashley said the shelter was at capacity, and although the men are not usually allowed to stay the next day, arrangements were made for that to happen due to the dangerous wind chill.

Nancy Coveny, director of the Catholic Foundation, said that donors can pick particular funds or interest areas for their gifts such as programs like these current grant recipients offer, or create new funds that fulfill their charitable intentions.

“We have many more applications and requests than we are able to fill. We welcome current gifts and estate gifts which will help us provide more grants to our parishes, Catholic schools, nonprofits and ministries,” said Coveny.

Catholic Charities Atlanta has not yet been negatively impacted by the winter weather, said Stephanie Ungashick, director of marketing. The agency’s staff does expect to see clients searching for assistance in keeping their utilities turned on when the higher bills arrive.

Online donations to support the work of Catholic Charities are always welcome to assist in meeting these needs.