Cluster parishioner Kayla Gerber helps by cleaning up debris. (Submitted photo)

Anita Draper
Catholic Herald staff

Fundraising, volunteering and cleanup efforts are underway in Barron County, and parishioners from the cluster parishes of St. Peter, Cameron; St. Boniface, Chetek; St. Joseph, Barron; and Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Strickland, are pitching in to help.

None of the churches or church properties sustained damage in the Tuesday, May 16, storm, according to parish life coordinator Patty Gerber, but many parishioners were not so fortunate.

A tornado ripped a record-breaking 83-mile path through Northern Wisconsin, the National Weather Service reported, longest in Wisconsin’s recorded history. According to the Barron County Sheriff’s Department, current damage estimates are in the $10-12 million range. The Rice Lake Chronotype reported 231 properties were damaged, only four of them commercial.

St. Peter’s hosted the Volunteer Reception Center last weekend, a coordinated effort with the Department of Natural Resources, county emergency response personnel, community organizations and others.

“We had quite a few activities that went on Thursday through Sunday,” Gerber said. “It’s pretty nice how willing everybody was to do something on the weekend. We just try to make a joint effort throughout our cluster.”

Volunteers from area communities were recruited to help with storm clean-up, prepare food, sort donations, direct traffic and meet other needs. Ladies’ groups, Knights of Columbus and other parish organizations volunteered their time and talents as well.

As the parishes respond to the physical and material needs of victims, the cluster’s sacramental minister, Fr. Balaraju Policetty, has been ministering to those in need of emotional and spiritual support. The parishes are also collecting donations for disaster relief, and the Diocese of Superior has launched a special collection for the same purpose.

Barron County Health and Human Services will be in charge of distributing emergency funds, and Gerber said the two leaders of the department are trusted parishioners, so she is confident the money will be dispersed wisely.

A confidential phone line will also connect residents with financial needs to disaster relief services; as the volunteer effort slows, Gerber expects there will be a lot of unmet needs.

She tells the story of an 87-year-old woman whose 1-acre property is littered with fallen trees; without enough tree-cutting businesses to serve the area, there will be a shortage of workers to clear the debris. The area is also economically poor.

“I can’t express how big that damage … and how cumbersome that clean-up is going to be,” she added.