She searched for three weeks, even contacting churches and various agencies in hopes of securing funding that would help.
“I was keeping everything in a cooler,” she says, pointing to the blue-and-white plastic picnic cooler that sits on the floor nearby. “I filled it with ice packs, but that didn’t work. I called the pharmacy and they made me throw out all of my medicine. I lost about three months’ worth of insulin.”
Patricia’s struggle immediately became topic of conversation when a Meals on Wheels Independent Living Associate came for her monthly visit. MOW’s ILA Program, which is part of the larger Social Services Program, provides seniors with help on a wide range of day-to-day activities, such as sorting and organizing mail, paying bills, applying for community resources, and making phone calls to coordinate appointments.
Realizing the urgency of the situation and the potential consequences of Patricia losing her insulin, the ILA made a phone call. The social services program at Meals on Wheels has an emergency fund set aside to help with situations such as these. Spending a little money on the front end to help a senior in a dire situation can result in a huge savings later on, both in terms of finances and health. Without the insulin, Patricia would have ended up in the hospital. She also would have had to resort to going back to the check cashing businesses she used to go to in order to secure money to buy one on her own.
“The total cost for addressing this critical need was $975.32,” says Cheryl Bolender, senior manager of case management services, who oversees the emergency fund. “That covered the purchase and set up of an 18.8-cubic-foot Frigidaire refrigerator. Recker and Boerger, the appliance company, included a discounted price for this purchase, as we explained the need to try to keep the expenditure at $1,000 or less so that we can continue to stretch our emergency funds to serve as many of our seniors as possible.”
The refrigerator was delivered the following day.
Patricia walks back through her living room and steps out onto her front porch, which is shaded from the afternoon sun by a large oak tree that covers her tiny front yard.
“I had to trim it back once,” she says of the tree. “People tell me I should just cut it down, but why? Look at all of the shade it provides.”
She takes a seat in a padded chair.
“My husband and I bought this home 35 years ago,” she says. “We raised five kids here. Then he found a girlfriend and left. He said it may be the biggest mistake he could ever make, but he was going to make it anyway. He tried to come back once. I told him no. So it’s just me, and I don’t want to leave. The thought of living in a retirement home makes me ill. I couldn’t stand it in a place like that. People want to stay in their homes. It’s where they feel comfortable, where their memories are. But it’s tough. I used my 401(k) money to put all five kids through college, so all I have left to live on is Social Security.”
To help ease up some of her limited monthly income, Meals on Wheels helped Patricia receive SNAP benefits so she could save on groceries, and she guided her in the application for getting extra help with her Medicare premium payments. She also helped her receive home delivered meals from MOW, which are specific to help her with her diabetic and cardiac care. In addition to her diabetes, she also has congestive heart failure.
“My whole body is breaking down,” she says. “The diabetes is affecting my gums, so now I have to have some teeth pulled. I had to have neck surgery not too long ago. I couldn’t lift my head. I had 18 pieces of metal put in the back of my neck, otherwise I would have been in a wheelchair. People tell me I look like I’m in good shape, but I’m pretty brittle inside.”
She settles into the chair and stares out past the tree. In addition to her physical issues, she’s weighed down by emotional challenges as well. She was on an equal billing cycle for her utilities, but the increase in natural gas prices and the long cold winter meant she used more than she was paying for, and that left her in a huge deficit she has to find the money for.
“I don’t know what I am going to do,” she says, “but it will be OK.”
“You know, Meals on Wheels and the Council on Aging have been amazing to me,” she says. “I’ve never asked for anything, but they’ve always given me what I need. Without them, I would not be able to live here.”