BP Aid To Catholic Charity Running Out

BP has given more than $1 million to Catholic Charities to help struggling fishermen and others hurt by the Gulf oil spill. That money is now running out, but BP has been unwilling to send more. The charity says that while the oil spill may be winding down, the need for aid is not.

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In the coastal parishes of Louisiana, Catholic Charities have been offering food and support to families struggling in the aftermath of the Gulf oil spill. A million-dollar grant from BP in May gave Catholic Charities a boost, but now, the money is running out, which could hurt efforts by nonprofits to help communities that are growing desperate. NPR's Allison Keyes reports.

ALLISON KEYES: Scores of people sit anxiously at long tables at a big building behind St. Patrick Church in Plaquemines Parish.

Unidentified Man: Okay, we're going to start with the first number.

KEYES: The church is one of five oil spill relief centers Catholic Charities is running in the coastal parishes. Most here are out-of-work fishermen with children in tow. They're here, some clutching little red tickets for the Wednesday food lottery. All the ticket numbers are put into a bowl, and 125 are called.

Unidentified Man: Nine-zero-eight, 908.

KEYES: The lucky ones get $100 vouchers for groceries at one of two local stores near here. If your number isn't called, you get a $20 box of groceries with things like rice, soap, canned corn and spaghetti.

Valerie Hardy's(ph) husband works at a fish processing plant, where his hours have dropped from 40 to 10 a week. Hardy's glad her number was called again this week, but she wishes there was money to help everyone.

Ms. VALERIE HARDY: I'm getting it every week because my number is being called every week, but there are some people that came all the same weeks that I have been coming and have never received it, and I don't think that's fair.

KEYES: Jim Kelly feels the same way. He's co-president of Catholic Charities, Archdiocese of New Orleans.

Mr. JIM KELLY (Co-president, Catholic Charities, Archdiocese of New Orleans): We're basically out of money. We're dipping into our very minimum and meager reserves.

KEYES: Kelly says BP gave Catholic Charities $1.1 million back in May to continue its oil spill relief for fishermen and other families. So the charity went out and raised another half-million on its own and continued its work, providing food, diapers, money for rent and other outstanding bills and mental health counseling. Kelly says this is an economic mental health crisis.

Mr. KELLY: We can take care of the economics for these folks. We can solve a lot of the mental health problems.

KEYES: Kelly says BP asked Catholic Charities and a consortium of other local and national nonprofits to come back with a proposal for funding for a long-term strategy. So the agencies first asked for $23 million. It would have been split between seven parishes over six months. Kelly says BP asked them to scale it back, so the revised request to BP in June was for $11.5 million.

Mr. KELLY: BP was very pleased with the proposal. They've been very pleased with the concept of funding the local providers on the ground. And we expected to hear from BP a week and a half ago at the latest. And it's radio silence.

KEYES: Catholic Charities put out an urgent appeal last week for oil spill relief funding, saying it needs more than $100,000 a week to sustain services. Kelly says it's providing nearly two-thirds of the resources on the ground here because most other charities are already overwhelmed. They're helping folk who are still recovering from Hurricane Katrina and the nationwide economic crisis.

He won't say how long the agency can continue helping if more funding doesn't come through.

Mr. KELLY: I don't know. I don't want to even think about it. I want to think that somehow, some way, we're going to cobble together the funds to keep going. We're going to figure it out. We're going to maybe start screaming louder at both the federal government and BP to say you can't abandon these people.

KEYES: BP said today that it has been proud of the partnership with Catholic Charities in New Orleans, but it has received many similar proposals since then. BP says it is now having conversations with all parties and it is hoping to identify the best way forward to support the community.

No matter what happens, the people at St. Patrick Church, like volunteer Helen Saucier(ph), are focused on survival.

Ms. HELEN SAUCIER: We've been through so much down here, to where it seems to be normal. I kid you not, between the hurricanes and the oil spills, but we persevere.

KEYES: Allison Keyes, NPR News.

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