Port Orchard parish serves as evacuation shelter following tornado

Red Cross volunteers gathered at an evacuation shelter at St. Gabriel Parish after a tornado touched down in Port Orchard December 18. Photo: American Red Cross Northwest Region Facebook page Red Cross volunteers gathered at an evacuation shelter at St. Gabriel Parish after a tornado touched down in Port Orchard December 18. Photo: American Red Cross Northwest Region Facebook page

PORT ORCHARD – St. Gabriel Parish is serving as a Red Cross evacuation shelter for those affected by the tornado that hit Port Orchard Tuesday afternoon, December 18.

The tornado touched down about 2 p.m., causing “catastrophic damage,” according to a tweet from the Kitsap County Sheriff’s office. About 50 buildings were damaged, according to news reports.

The Red Cross contacted the parish Tuesday afternoon to ask if it would serve as an evacuation site, said Kurt Lawrence, St. Gabriel’s pastoral assistant for administration, and the pastor, Father Phuong Hoang, “instantly agreed.”

The American Red Cross Northwest Region announced on its Facebook page that the evacuation center would open at 4 p.m. “for all impacted by severe weather.”

The Red Cross provided cots, blankets, food and counselors to assess people’s needs, Lawrence said.

There was also an “awesome outpour” of generosity from the parish and the broader Port Orchard community as donations of food, clothing and water poured in, Lawrence said — so much so that the parish posted on Facebook Tuesday evening that further donations and volunteers were not required.

Throughout the afternoon and evening, St. Gabriel’s parish hall and religious education wing were open to those affected by the tornado, including those who’d lost power and utilities.

The atmosphere at the shelter was “subdued” and “somber,” Lawrence said. “A lot of people were obviously in shock, especially those that were in their homes or in the neighborhood when it hit.”

Six people displaced by the tornado spent the night at the St. Gabriel shelter, he said.

The parish’s efforts, Lawrence said, were a response to Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Matthew: “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”

“We’ve fed, we’ve housed, we’ve clothed,” Lawrence said. “It is the mission that Christ gave us through his Gospel. We are the eyes, the ears, the huggers, the feeders, the ones offering drink.”

Going forward, the parish’s Care and Share outreach ministry is mobilizing to respond to the ongoing needs of the community, as is the local St. Vincent de Paul thrift store, Lawrence said.

St. Gabriel’s parish hall will remain open Wednesday to anyone in need of coats, blankets or other supplies.

Kevin Birnbaum

Kevin Birnbaum is the interim editor/associate publisher of Northwest Catholic and a member of Seattle’s Blessed Sacrament Parish. Contact him at Kevin.Birnbaum@seattlearch.org.