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REACHING OUT The Knights of Columbus and Diocesan Pastoral Center employees donated food and supplies to mountain residents snowed in due to recent storms. LEFT: Left to right, Knight of Columbus Zaki Mustafa, Elsa Laura Gallegos, Sister Chilee Okoko, DMMM and Bishop Alberto Rojas pose with snow shovels that were among the items donated. RIGHT: Deep snow is seen in the mountain community of Crestline.

Local Knights of Columbus teamed up with staff from the Diocesan Pastoral Center (DPC) to collect and donate food and supplies to residents of San Bernardino mountain communities facing difficulty getting food and essential items due to the heavy winter storms that impacted Southern California in March. Food donations from diocesan staff and the Knights of Columbus were collected and sorted at the DPC and then transported to the communities of Crestline and Lake Arrowhead.

“Since we heard [mountain residents] were getting that much snow, one thing for sure is that we have been keeping them in our prayers ... we have been thinking of them, and now we are collecting food and other things to send up to the parishes,” Bishop Alberto Rojas said March 9 as supplies were gathered for delivery at the Pastoral Center.

Heavy storms in late February and early March dumped vast amounts of snow into the mountain communities, with Lake Arrowhead, Crestline, Running Springs and Wrightwood getting the worst of the snowfall. The huge snowfall caused road closures for days and even weeks for some roads, frustrating many residents who had to spend several hours per day to even dig themselves out of their houses.

“We’ve had large storms before, but the way this one came so fast and unrelenting, we just couldn’t get a handle on it,” said Genese “Gigi” Horan, Youth Minister at Our Lady of the Lake, Lake Arrowhead.

Some residents faced shortages of food and medical supplies, and emergency responses were hampered by the roads not being cleared. Those in the Crestline/Lake Arrowhead area had a particularly difficult time of it when the roof of Goodwin & Sons Market, the only grocery store in Crestline that some Lake Arrowhead area residents also shop at, collapsed from the weight of the snow.

On behalf of her parish, Horan expressed gratitude to those from down the mountain who had reached out to help. “We are grateful to the Diocese and the Knights for reaching out and helping us and getting us stuff for our ongoing needs. We still have people coming in asking for help and we’re just grateful we have something to provide to them,” she said.

One parishioner from St. Frances Xavier Cabrini in Crestline, Anna Maria Abrams, echoed Horan’s statements that these storms were unprecedented. She said that she had never seen snowfall like this in her 25 years of living in the mountains.

“When we first moved up there, we used to have 3-4 feet of snow with each storm. But this we’ve never experienced. And all the people we know, like from our parish, some of them have been up there close to 50 years and they’ve never seen it like this either,” said Abrams, who said that her husband probably spent around 40 hours shoveling the 8-10 feet of snow from their property.

The residents of Crestline, and in particular the approximately 150 parishioners of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, are a tight-knit community, explained Abrams, which made not being able to come together for Mass for several weekends difficult. “We’re a small community, so that’s how we keep connected. So that has been a shame,” she said of not being able to attend Sunday Mass with her fellow parishioners.

Still, the parish community “pulled together,” said Abrams. “Everybody’s helped each other. That’s just the way community up there works. We’ve had so many natural disasters with the fires and the evacuations, so we kind of know that this is what we have to deal with, and we have to reach out to everyone and see if everyone’s OK ... that community is a real blessing,” she said.

Storm-related property damage up in the mountains was common, with many roofs caving in from the weight of the snow or fallen trees crushing roofs or cars. Thankfully, mountain parishes seem to have escaped much of the damage. There were multiple downed trees at St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, one of which fell on a parish building, although it appears to not have caused any substantial damage due to the snow which cushioned the fall. Our Lady of the Lake reported broken windows from so many feet of snow pressing against the buildings and some flooding later in March, once a warmer storm brought rain that melted the snow. These incidents were the only reported property damage to a mountain parish as of press time.

In the lowlands, the rainy weather halted a few construction projects at Aquinas High School, San Bernardino; St. Mary, Fontana; and St. Frances of Rome, Wildomar. Aside from reports of a few leaking roofs, the most major damage to a parish in the lowlands was to St. John Bosco Mission, Highland, which saw its patio collapse due to heavy rains and winds in January.