When disaster strikes . . .

| June 8, 2011 | 0 Comments

Jenny Orsborn of Traveling Angels

Jenny Orsborn, founder of the Traveling Angels, helps clean up debris in north Minneapolis alongside volunteers from Catholic United Financial Foundation in Roseville May 27. Orsborn belongs to St. Andrew in Elk River. Photos by Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

Catholics help north Minneapolis clean up, recover

Behind a steep pile of branches and debris in north Minneapolis came the sound of children laughing and playing. Just days after a tornado ripped through the area, residents could be seen wandering the streets and viewing the damage.

The happy sounds of the children were most welcome in a profoundly sad and devastating scene. Also welcome were the scores of volunteers who swooped in to provide disaster relief.

Among the unsung heroes were two members of the same parish who did not know each other before meeting in the backyard of a home on Logan Avenue.

Paul Naumann and Jenny Orsborn both belong to St. Andrew in Elk River in the Diocese of St. Cloud. But neither was aware of that fact when Orsborn decided she wanted to help out and saw information for Naumann’s disaster relief group on the Internet.

Working together

Orsborn had formed a group of her own in 2008 called the Traveling Angels and was looking for a Twin Cities group she could join in north Minneapolis.

A web search brought her to Catholic United Response, a disaster relief effort of Catholic United Financial Foundation in St. Paul. Naumann, the foundation’s executive director, is in charge of the group and made plans to go to north Minneapolis May 26 and 27.

“It’s funny we go to the same church and we’ve never met each other before,” said Orsborn, 39, who has taken her group to New Orleans for cleanup work every year since it was formed. “I was just looking for somebody to hook up with to clean up after this tornado in Minneapolis. I came across his [Naumann’s] information, so I signed up on their website.”

A total of nine volunteers combined from the two groups teamed up on what Naumann called “the maiden voyage” of Catholic United Response. For the first time, the trailer carrying tools and equipment needed for cleanup pulled into a disaster relief zone to carry out the practical application of the Scripture verse from Matthew 25 stenciled on the outside of the trailer door: “Whatever you did for the least of my brothers, you did for me.”

“We’ve got about $20,000 worth of tools and equipment, and we keep adding,” said Naumann, who printed out a four-page inventory of equipment, including three chain saws, two generators and two power washers.

“The crew was great,” he said. “Each day, we had three chain saw operators. And, they were all experienced chain saw operators. Then, the [other] volunteers were there to remove the debris, working alongside the chain saw operators. They all worked as a team.”

Naumann was grateful to have the assistance of an experienced group like the Traveling Angels. Orsborn said there is a core group of six people that goes on every trip. The other five core members are Anne Shields, Ron Olson, Carrie Bang, Gary Keifenheim and Joe Schultz.

All but Shields, who belongs to Holy Cross in Onamia, are members of St. Andrew. Though volunteers for both groups are mostly Catholic, both accept non-Catholic volunteers as well. In fact, Naumann gives special credit to a Jewish disaster relief organization, Nechama, for providing disaster relief training for his group.

Tornado cleanup

Paul Naumann, left, executive director of Catholic United Financial Foundation in Roseville, works with Dave Evert of Holy Name in south Minneapolis and St. Anne in Wadena to clean up the backyard of a north Minneapolis home May 27. Naumann belongs to St. Andrew in Elk River.

A Catholic response

Naumann said the roots of his disaster relief group go back to the floods in southeastern Minnesota in 2007.

He went down to the area and supplied funds from the foundation to help members of Catholic United Financial (formerly known as the Catholic Aid Association), which founded the foundation but is a separate nonprofit, fraternal organization that sells insurance and other financial products to its Catholic members.

“At that time, we gave out about $49,000 in grants,” he said. “There were so many other faith-based organizations assisting in the disaster cleanup. But there was no organized, Catholic response. . . . We decided to put the Catholic face on disaster response. Then, we began looking at ways we could increase the awareness and presence of Catholics living their faith.”

As the trailer rolled into north Minneapolis, employees of both Catholic United Financial and Catholic United Financial Foundation stepped in to put the tools to work, all the way to president Mike McGovern. Their bright, lime-green T-shirts were highly visible amid the rubble and debris. So were the light blue T-shirts of the Traveling Angels, which had “I’m an Angel” printed on the front.

Orsborn decided to form a group after St. Andrew’s sent volunteers to New Orleans three years in a row, beginning in 2006. It seemed like a natural step, though one infused by her faith.

“I felt like God was trying to tell me something,” she said. “And, I kept saying, ‘What is it?’ All of a sudden, one day, the pastor was speaking at my church and talking about being called to service. And, it just clicked.”

The same, simple revelation occurred when she was trying to come up with a name for the group. She was driving on the road one day, and the phrase “Traveling Angels” popped into her head. Once again, she knew the thought was divinely inspired.

Next up for the two groups is cleanup northwest of the Twin Cities in Wadena. A tornado devastated the area on June 17, 2010, leveling homes and creating a pile of debris and rubble that the town is still trying to clean up.

Catholic United Response will spend five days in the area starting June 13, while the Traveling Angels are planning to go for a weekend later this summer.

“We feel like God has called us to do this,” Orsborn said. “If we can just change one person’s life, it’s worth it.”

Naumann, who plans to retire from the foundation in October, but not from volunteering in disaster relief, said: “We’re here to help. What can we do? What is the greatest need? One of the needs that kept coming up was the need for additional help in disaster cleanup and recovery — and, especially, recovery. After the initial rush of volunteers leaves the area, there’s a need to help in recovery and rebuilding.”

For more information about the Traveling Angels and to join the group, contact Orsborn by phone at (612) 281-3061, by email at thetravelingangels@izoom.net, or visit http://www.thetravelingangels.com.

For more information about Catholic United Response, visit http://www.united-we-help.org/about.html.

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