Parishes should be places where people know they can go during times of emergency, Auxiliary Bishop David G. O’Connell said during an Oct. 5 press conference announcing a partnership between the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the Red Cross.
“We are doing our part to create a neighborhood of trust and of relationships,” he said, connecting the new agreement to Pope Francis’ vision for the Catholic Church.
The archdiocese and the Red Cross announced that they will be partnering to provide parish halls and school gyms as shelters during emergencies in Southern California during a press conference at Bishop Mora Salesian High School in Boyle Heights.
Parishes and schools have the choice of opting into the partnership. So far, 53 parishes, eight high schools and an elementary school have agreed to help during emergencies like earthquakes, wildfires and water main breaks.
“We introduce Red Cross to our parishes, and the Red Cross takes it from there,” said Eileen O’Brien, director of operations at the archdiocese. In addition to shelters, the Red Cross can use parishes and schools as assistance centers to distribute food and a place for people to meet when searching for loved ones.
High school gymnasiums, which have showers and a lot of space, are ideal places for shelters. But other locations can also be useful as the Red Cross can provide portable toilets and showers.
While the parish provides the space and a coordinator to open the door, the Red Cross provides staffing, supplies and liability.
Students learned about emergency preparedness, safety kits and experienced a simulated earthquake in the “Shakey Quakey School House” after the press conference.
“The reality is that parents get off work and they’re tired. On the weekend, they want to spend time with their kids, not in a class,” said Alex Chacon, principal of Bishop Mora. “We have the opportunity to help educate students and provide them with important, life-saving skills like CPR and the Heimlich maneuver.”
From sports to Mariachi club, the school is a place of constant activity and “adding another layer of safety is really important,” Chacon said.
“Children are the best educators of parents,” said Jared Barrios, CEO of Red Cross Los Angeles region. “We are proud to be associated with the Catholic Church. People come to churches during disasters and emergencies. We want to be there. When there’s a disaster, people can count on help from the Red Cross.”
Kevin Baxter, superintendent of Catholic schools, hopes this will be the first of many partnerships between the Red Cross and other dioceses across the country.
Pope Francis underscored the value of neighborhoods in his address to U.S. bishops Sept. 27 at St. Martin Seminary Chapel. He compared neighborhood stores to supermarkets.
“Business was done on the basis of trust, people knew one another. They were all neighbors. They trusted one another,” the Holy Father said.
“The world seems to have become one of these great supermarkets; our culture has become more and more competitive,” he said. “Business is no longer conducted on the basis of trust; others can no longer be trusted. There are no longer close personal relationships.”
Bishop O’Connell, referring to these comments by Pope Francis, said parishes and schools can still be a place of trust for communities. With the Red Cross, parishes can be a place to help the whole neighborhood in times of emergency.
“We’re not here just to serve ourselves,” Bishop O’Connell said, “but to serve our neighborhood.”