St. Frances Cabrini Church in Lebanon has received a $30,000 grant to help families in Wilson County recovering from the deadly March 3 tornado that sliced through Middle Tennessee.
The grant is from the Community Foundation of Wilson County.
“We never imagined we would get a grant of this nature,” said St. Frances Parish Secretary Nikki Gann. “We’re still in shock.”
The money will be distributed to families to help them pay utility bills, Gann explained. “It will be opened up to all families in Wilson County.”
St. Frances hopes to spread the word about the availability of the help through area churches. “We will contact churches to ask them to let their parishioners know about what we’re doing,” Gann said.
“Or they can give us the names, whichever is easiest,” she added. “We’re willing to work that way.”
Gann said they would reach out first to St. Stephen Catholic Community in Old Hickory, which has parishioners who live in Mt. Juliet, one of the areas hit by the tornado.
St. Frances officials also will contact the Lebanon Special School District and Wilson County Schools to ask for names of families that might need help, Gann said.
“We would love to have a one-on-one with the family” to discuss their needs, she said, “but it may have to be via telephone.”
“We’ve got to get the database electronically, so we can verify the information we’re given by the families,” Gann said. They will pay the utility directly.
To help has many families as possible, St. Frances will put a cap on how much financial assistance each family will receive, Gann said.
St. Frances officials were encouraged to apply for the Community Foundation grant by Recover Lebanon 2020, which is helping to coordinate ongoing tornado relief efforts.
“Having some of our families affected and hearing about more and more families in need of assistance, we wanted to help them meet their needs,” Gann said. “Some have post traumatic stress after the storm. With COVID some have had their work affected. We thought helping with assistance and share some love would be the right thing to do.”
“Never in the history of St. Frances Cabrini have we ever been able to do something like this, so we’re in the clouds,” Gann said. “We would never be able to do it at this magnitude without their generosity,” she said of the Community Foundation.
Although the parish has never received a similar grant, it has been busy helping parishioners and others affected by the tornado and later by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We help families through our Giving Cabinet,” which provides financial assistance to pay utility bills, food and other items, Gann said.
The food assistance includes canned meats, canned goods, non-perishable items, and a few cold items, enough for a 3-5 day supply of food for family, Gann said.
During Lent each year, the parish holds a drive to collect toiletry items, which were in high demand after the tornado, Gann said. This year, the drive also included cleaning supplies to help people clean up their tornado damaged homes, she added.
The St. Vincent de Paul Society also provided gift cards to help tornado victims, Gann said. The parish was able to provide families in need a full package of food, toiletry items, cleaning supplies and gift cards, she said.
“Hopefully every bit helps,” Gann said. “It’s not going to be exactly everything they need.”
While helping tornado victims, the parish volunteers have found more families affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, some of whom have lost their jobs and have no income, Gann said.
Catholic Charities of Tennessee has provided hot meals from area restaurants for St. Frances to distribute to Wilson County families affected by the pandemic, as well as some basic necessities
“Catholic Charities is doing an amazing job,” Gann said.
Working with Gann to help the Spanish-speaking members of the community who have lost their homes or jobs because of the tornado and pandemic, has been parishioner Maria Elena Hernandez. “We’re literally working side by side,” Gann said. “She’s in the house next door and I’m in the office.”
Hernandez received a call from two families who were living together because one of them had lost their home in the tornado. They were unaware of the restrictions prompted by the pandemic or why all the stores were out of toilet paper and other items, Gann said.
“They were so preoccupied and absorbed with cleaning up after the tornado, they didn’t know what was going on,” Gann said.
With Hernandez’ help, the parish was able to provide aid to the two families, Gann said.
“We’re here for our families,” Gann said. “We don’t want them to think they’re forgotten. … However we can help, that’s what we want to do.”