Think about the last time you filled out an emergency contact form. Did you have to pause to think about who you would write down, or was it a quick decision — a spouse, a parent, a friend?
In May 2015, Catholic Charities of Central Texas became the emergency contact for Joanne, a single mother, and her four young children. They moved to our community just before the Memorial Day floods. Joanne made a courageous decision to leave the only community she had ever known to give her children a chance at a better life — a life free from abuse at the hands of their father.
The day she decided to leave, Joanne withdrew the $524.32 in her checking account. She decided to drive as far as $150 in gas would get her and use the rest on housing. That $150 brought her to our community.
The day after she arrived, with determination and hope, Joanne enrolled the children in school and began job hunting. Unfortunately, on Memorial Day, their apartment (which held only the bags of clothes that could fit in the car) flooded with 6 feet of water. Joanne and the children had to be evacuated from the apartment in the middle of the night by a swift water rescue crew. Having no friends or family to rely upon and nowhere to turn, they were lost.
Joanne and her children spent that night in a makeshift shelter. The next morning, she wearily walked through the doors of St. John’s parish in San Marcos, where we’d set up an emergency response center.
Have you ever seen despair? I mean true despair, where one’s eyes no longer shine because their soul is broken and their shoulders slump from the weight of worry and grief. This is how Joanne came to us with her four children in tow — lost, scared, and broken.
The Catholic Charities of Central Texas family responded immediately. While the children played and ate a warm meal, a staff member sat down with Joanne to hear her story and assess what services we could offer. They shared that we would replace the clothes the family lost, and more importantly, find them housing and cover the first month’s rent. The family would not have to return back to where they came from. Joanne cried tears of relief.
At that point, I was walking by and went to hand Joanne a tissue when she stood up and wrapped her arms around me. Through her tears she said, “I have no family. I am alone.” As I held her, I asked God to give me the words to say to her. Without another thought, I whispered back, “We will be your family.”
At that moment, we became Joanne’s emergency contact — one she could rely upon to walk with her through this journey. During our embrace, I could see and feel relief washing over her. She was no longer tense with slumped shoulders, and light came back into her eyes. We were able to restore hope.
As I hugged Joanne, I said a prayer of thanksgiving. I gave thanks to Joanne for allowing us to carry out our faith by serving her, and to everyone who entrusted their gifts with us to give hope to families in their darkest hours.
Sara Ramirez is the executive director of Catholic Charities of Central Texas, a nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening families and addressing the basic needs of residents of 25 Texas counties through counseling services, disaster response, financial stability, immigration legal services, veteran services, and parenting and pregnancy resources.