St. Mary’s Catholic Church hosts resource meal for tornado victims

After Spanish-language Mass concluded on Sunday afternoon, parishioners impacted by the tornado gathered together for fellowship, enjoying a potluck lunch and learning about resources available to help them process trauma, with guest speaker Iowa Rep. Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown offering some insights, as well as Sue Cahill, First Ward Marshalltown City Council member.

Sister Christine Feagan, OP, head of Hispanic Ministry, said the church has been busy connecting its members with resources, including gift cards, fans and clean-up services.

“A lot of people (who belong to the church) live in that part of town. Of our community, it’s mostly Latinos, but some Anglos too were impacted by the tornado,” she said. “But without documentation, people can’t get help from the government – everybody living in the house has to have a Social Security number, and one woman I know said ‘take me off the list, and just put my husband’s and children’s names,’ but they won’t do it.”

Feagan said some of the main challenges people are facing pertain to insurance, or lack thereof.

“No insurance or not knowing what their policy said. Some people came to find out because the roof was old, it wasn’t included in the policy and they didn’t really read it because many people don’t think they need insurance,” she said. “Some people didn’t know there’s such a thing as renters’ insurance. And some people only had outdoor cellars (for shelter) and were afraid to go out in the storm so they just stayed inside their houses.”

Maria Ochoa’s home on Fremont Street was destroyed, displacing herself and six other family members.

“It’s because of the kids that we realized there was a tornado, because they came inside yelling ‘it’s coming, it’s coming’ and we ran out to see who was coming and we could see the tornado coming. If it wasn’t for them, it would have caught us right there,” she said through a translator.

The family, who is now staying in a hotel, said each time they return to their residence to fetch needed items, they relive the experience.

“Now they’re giving me something to help me sleep because the stress is just too much. I can’t deal with it,” she said.

Her grown daughter, Mirsha Contreras, who also resided in the home, said her children are still frightened.

“The children are scared because they’re little, and it’s affecting us now; the reality is kind of hitting,” she said.

Smith spoke to those assembled, with Feagan translating in Spanish. He likened the devastation from the tornado to the famed floods of 1993.

“My daughter was 4 at the time. I almost cried one night when I was putting her to bed and she said ‘daddy, I don’t like the rain anymore.’ I recommend that you make their experiences into stories: talk about how frightened we were, but that we stayed together as a family and that we were all safe,” he said. “Anything that you can tell the children that emphasizes the positives.”

Smith has spent most of his life working with troubled children and their families, treating substance abuse, and directing services to the mentally ill. For a time, he served as director of special projects at the Substance Abuse Treatment Unit of Central Iowa (SATUCI).

Alicia Maravilla, who resides on West State St., remains in her damaged home, living with a grown son and her husband, who is in poor health.

“The week of the tornado, before it happened, I had gone to the bank to check out my insurance,” she said through a translator. “I thought the insurance was out so I went to the bank to see about getting it, and they were going to get back to me, and they didn’t. So I had no insurance.”

Not only does Maravilla live with uncertainty about the safety of her dwelling, she relives the tornado every time a thunderstorm hits.

“The night there was all the thunder and lightning, I didn’t sleep. I got up and I prayed to Mary to not let her Son send any more bad storms. I didn’t want to go to sleep, because what if something happened?”

For more information on how to be connected with resources, Smith may be reached at: 641-750-9278.

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Contact Sara Jordan-Heintz at

641-753-6611 or sjordan@timesrepublican.com