A Norwalk non-profit with a long history of helping others received some help itself after Hurricane Sandy flooded one of its main offices.
Family & Children's Agency, founded 70 years ago, was forced out of its 149 Water St. office in South Norwalk in the wake of the massive storm in late October, losing the location at which it provided support to the homeless and families in crisis, as well as foster care services. The agency, which served more than 1,000 people from its Water Street office, also lost furniture, equipment and supplies valued at an estimated $150,000.
But Robert Cashel, president and CEO of FCA, said the non-profit hasn't had to curtail services because Grace Episcopal Church opened its doors to the agency's day program for the homeless, and 50 staff members "doubled up" at its other main location at 9 Mott Ave.
"I think they're going as well as they absolutely could," Cashel said of how the agency has functioned since the flood at 149 Water St. "I think staff has been working extremely well together and recognize this is an extraordinary situation we're in.
"Services have not been interrupted. We've been able to continue to provide the services, and that's a real testament to staff," Cashel added. "We're really operating essentially the same."
Services were briefly interrupted immediately after the flood because the agency's Community Connections Center, which provides counseling and vocational and housing support to the homeless, requires a designated space, Cashel said. But he said that program was up and running again after the Rev. Lois Keen, priest in charge at Grace Episcopal Church, offered the church as a temporary venue.
"They have been unbelievably generous. The whole congregation, I can't thank them enough for opening their doors to our program at a time when we were very anxious to get our program up and running," Cashel said. "The parishioners of the church are providing lunches ... . They've been great. I can't thank them enough."
Keen said the church and FCA have a longstanding relationship, primarily around the holidays when parishioners collect gifts for one of the agency's programs, and that the church was happy to provide space to Family & Children's Agency in its time of need.
"Because we already have a relationship with them, there was no question we would let them have that space for the time being," she said. She said the church also previously provided space to the agency on an occasional basis for staff meetings and programs.
Ironically, Grace Episcopal Church was flooded out of its old building during a storm in the mid-1950s, when the Norwalk River overflowed its banks, and the church moved to its current location at 1 Union Park in 1964, Keen said.
"The congregation knows what it means to be flooded out and looking for a temporary location," she said.
Keen said hosting the agency's Community Connections Center five days a week has worked well. She said her husband outfitted the church with a wireless connection so agency staff could use laptops, adding the system was undergoing some tweaking. She said parishioners also hope to offer lunch on a regular basis and are trying to figure out how to do that since they work during the day.
Cashel said residents at The Open Door Shelter used to walk to the agency's Community Connections Center when it was at 149 Water St., but the temporary location at Grace Episcopal Church requires agency staff to pick them up and bring them to the program. He said the agency serves a total of 500 people a year in its Community Connections Center, plus another 500 in its family support and intervention and foster care programs.
Cashel said it's too early to say whether Family & Children's Agency will have to find a new home or will be able to move back to 149 Water St. He said the agency didn't own the Water Street building and did not have to pay for repairs. He said insurance may cover from $25,000 to $50,000 in losses in furniture, equipment and supplies and that Cox Media Group, through its radio stations 95.9 The FOX and STAR 99.9 WEZN, had pledged $25,000.
"We had flood insurance. That's a good thing, but it only picks up a relatively small percentage of losses we incurred. We're looking into the potential of FEMA support," Cashel said, referring to disaster relief from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. "We assume our losses will be upwards of $150,000 in this area."
Cashel said the agency's after-school programs at Norwalk Community College weren't affected nor were its foster care program and program for homebound elderly and disabled residents. In the foster care program, 23 social workers at the agency select and supervise foster homes throughout Fairfield County under a contract with the state Department of Children and Families. He said Family & Children's Agency's programs serve a combined 10,000 people a year.
Family & Children's Agency is now raising funds to replace the furniture, office equipment and supplies it lost due to the hurricane and has a goal of $150,000. Cashel said donations can be made via the agency's website, www.FamilyandChildrensAgency.org, and people interested in donating also can contact Claire Chimento, the agency's vice president of Development & Marketing, at email@example.com or 203-523-5717.