Displaying items by tag: hunger
Monday, 26 November 2012 19:50

Hunger: it's in every county.

I can not tell you how excited I am to be a part of the Lawyers Feeding Illinois Campaign. I was selected by ISBA President John Thies to serve on the committee for southeastern Illinois. I believe that southeastern Illinois and other rural areas of the State offer unique challenges for dealing with hunger. In my home area of Richland County, for example, over fifty percent (50%) of the school age children qualify for free or reduced lunches. This is just one indicator of the struggles that families are facing in smaller communities.

When we think of the hungry, we often think of urban centers. Too often, smaller communities in downstate Illinois are overlooked. The Lawyers Feeding Illinois Campaign is focused on addressing that concern by reaching out to attorneys from every county in the state for support for this important project. I encourage everyone to do their part because whether you are from a large community or a small town, hunger exists everywhere. Register a team to compete, or make a donation to support our efforts. By all of us doing our part, we can make a difference!

Jon Racklin is an attorney and member of the Lawyers Feeding Illinois Steering Committee

Published in Recent News
Thursday, 20 September 2012 20:01

Dianna's Story

by Bethany Prange, St. Louis Area Foodbank

She remembers it was a cold day in February, with subzero wind chills. In fact, Dianna can remember almost every detail of that Saturday in 2007. It was the day she lost everything.

In the small town of Salem, Ill., news usually travels fast. But on this day, Dianna Wood worked her regular shift at the tire shop, completely unaware. “The fire department came in with a flat tire and said, ‘can you hurry up? We gotta get back to the fire.’ I said, ‘Oh. Where’s the fire?’” When the firefighter said the fire was on Summertime Road, Dianna still didn’t register that it could be her address.

She checked her phone. No one had called. “I didn’t believe it,” Dianna says. Maybe it was shock. Maybe it was denial. But Dianna didn’t even leave work. Finally, an hour before quitting time, she headed for home. “It was a single lane road, and I didn’t see smoke until I got close,” she says. “There was only one truck left. I was like no, this can’t be happening.”

The large home that had housed seven apartments, including Dianna’s, was destroyed by the fire. The cause of the blaze was never formally identified, but residents speculated that the landlord’s dog had knocked over a lamp. “I lost everything but my truck and what I had on,” Dianna says. “I couldn’t say anything. I just broke down in tears.” Unfortunately, the landlord had let the home’s insurance policy lapse. Dianna had no renter’s insurance on her own belongings.

Fortunately, members of the community stepped in to help. Neighbors donated a microwave, furniture and dishes. A co-worker at Salem Tire offered to let her live in a trailer in nearby Alma, Ill. “They helped me out,” she says. “If I hadn’t been in a small town, these things wouldn’t have happened. “It’s hard for somebody like me to even ask for help.” Dianna began putting the pieces of her life back together, but even now, struggles to remember what was lost. “I try to remember, did I have that before the fire, or after the fire,” she says.

In the aftermath of the fire, Dianna lost her job at Salem Tire when her contract ran out. She had been placed at the tire shop through a temporary staffing agency. “I was making pretty good money but they didn’t want to pay benefits,” Dianna says. Dianna, 55, briefly worked at Bryan Manor, a rehabilitation home in Salem, before she was forced to quit because the home moved to Centralia. She could not afford to drive her aging truck from the trailer in Alma to the new location.

Unemployed and concerned for her future, Dianna went to the unemployment office for help. Though she had decades of work experience in retail and restaurant management, the counselor suggested she get training in a new field. Dianna enrolled in Kaskakia College in 2009. She completed her office medical personnel certificate in 2010. Dianna polished her resume over and over, highlighting her management positions at Sears tire centers in Illinois, Missouri and Tennessee. But still, she has had no luck finding a job.

She now lives in her first real home since the fire - income-based apartments in tiny Irvington, Ill. But the lack of employment and the loss of all her possessions has left her in financial distress. Her truck is unfit to drive, and she no longer has car insurance. She has not been able to afford health insurance since her last full-time job in 2005. Her unemployment benefits ran out in 2010.

“When I was getting unemployment, I only went to the food pantry maybe once every other month, just to tide me over,” Dianna says. But now, she has no choice but to rely on the Irvington Food Pantry to survive. Her only income is the $225 a month she receives from the Irvington Township for general assistance. She also receives $200 a month in food stamps. The food stamps help buy meat, cereal and basic items like sugar and salt. “I rely on the food pantry for my vegetables and any extras they may have like toilet paper or shampoo,” she says. “It’s a godsend that they have toilet paper.”

Since she can’t drive and the nearest grocery store is miles away, Dianna often has to shop at the only place in town – a tiny convenience store where prices are high and fresh food is scarce. Dianna is grateful that one of the local churches gives out vitamins through a grant program. “You know you don’t eat properly if you don’t have enough of everything else,” she says. “There are times I may have cereal for dinner or oatmeal.”

Dianna believes in paying it forward, and giving back as much as she is able. If she receives food or products she can’t use, she shares them with her neighbors. She has walked in fundraisers for muscular dystrophy and the Susan G. Komen Foundation, and she spends any free moments weaving prayer shawls at her church, Friedens United Church of Christ in Irvington. She also volunteers at the food pantry. “I can offer help, even if I can’t afford to give,” she says. “I may not live high on the hog, but what I’ve got I’m happy to share. I hope that other people realize that it’s not charity but it’s being charitable, because we’re all human and we all need a little help.”

Dianna shared her story in March 2012 with Bethany Prange, communications coordinator at the St. Louis Area Foodbank. Her personal circumstances may have changed since the original interview.

Published in Hunger Stories
Thursday, 20 September 2012 19:59

Brenda and Brian's Story

by Bethany Prange, St. Louis Area Foodbank

Brenda and Brian were high school sweethearts from neighboring small towns in Randolph County, Illinois. He was from Percy; she was from Steelville. They met, incidentally, because his sister and her brother were dating. While their siblings’ didn’t stay together, Brenda and Brian did. They married in 1988.

The young couple found a home together in Percy. Brian took a job doing foundry work and Brenda started a part-time job at the hospital. In 1991, they had their first child. Bradley was a healthy baby, and at first, they had no reason to suspect he was sick. But when Bradley was three months old, he began losing weight. Brenda and Brian began to notice the baby wheezing and struggling to breathe. “We couldn’t figure out what was wrong,” Brenda recalls. “Right before he turned a year old, we had an incident at home where he quit breathing.” The frantic parents called an ambulance. Bradley was taken to a local hospital where doctors ran tests, but couldn’t determine what was wrong.

It took a month to get in to see a specialist, and in the meantime, Bradley had another severe episode at home. Brenda and Brian finally took Bradley to SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center in St. Louis. There, he was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, an inherited chronic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system. The disease causes the body to produce unusually thick, sticky mucus that clogs the lungs and leads to life-threatening lung infections. Cystic fibrosis also obstructs the pancreas and stops natural enzymes from helping the body break down and absorb food.

Though cystic fibrosis is inherited and genetic, Brenda and Brian had no known relatives with the disease. Both parents must be carriers of the gene for a child to develop the disease. “Neither of us knew anyone who had it, and didn’t know either of us had the gene for it,” Brenda says.

During that first visit to the hospital, baby Bradley and his parents were at Cardinal Glennon for two weeks. From that point until Bradley turned 16, the family would make the trek from Percy to the St. Louis hospital hundreds of times – often several times a week. The drive is roughly 150 miles roundtrip. “It’s a $75 day to us,” Brenda says.

Brenda and Brian don’t want to move from Percy because they treasure the support of their family and friends there. Plus, Bradley has made many friends in the community. Bradley attended school until he was in the third grade. At that point, his parents hired a tutor to teach him at home. “Every time we sent him to school he would get sick and we would end up in the hospital for two weeks on IVs,” Brenda says. Bradley’s lungs were so weak and vulnerable to infection, he couldn’t handle being around other kids. Even when he stayed at home, he required medications, regular IVs, constant doctor visits and intense breathing treatments that lasted for hours at a time.

“I couldn’t work because of having a sick child and being at the hospital with him,” Brenda says. “No one would watch him. No one wanted to take care of his meds.” Fortunately, Brian’s job offered health insurance that covered most of Bradley’s medical expenses. The family was able to get Medicaid pay for another portion. But even with most medical costs covered, making ends meet was, and is, a struggle. Transportation costs – gas, lodging, food – for countless trips to hospitals eat up their living budget.

By the time he was 15, Bradley’s health had declined so far that he needed a double lung transplant. “I was so bad I couldn’t get off the couch to go to the bathroom. They’d have to carry me,” Bradley says. Bradley was nervous about the surgery, and the pain that would follow. His parents had their own concerns. “We were scared of losing him on the table,” Brenda says. “But the doctor told us we only had about two months left.”

Faced with those options, Bradley and his parents chose to have the transplant. The surgery was successful. For three months after the surgery, the family lived at the Ronald McDonald House so Bradley could be near the hospital for therapy, blood work and tests. Brenda and Brian are very grateful to Ronald McDonald house for their help and support during that time. But the two months Brian spent away from his job, combined with the extra expenses of living away from home, took a financial toll on the family. “You still had expenses up there and you still had to pay for your bills here at home,” Brenda says. Thanks to the double lung transplant, Bradley no longer has to do breathing treatments. His health regimen is reduced to occasional doctor visits, a monthly IV treatment, and pills – though he still takes 17 different types of medicine.

In 2005, Brenda and Brian had given birth to their second son, Blake. The couple wanted another child, and had discussed their options with doctors. Their chances of having another child with cystic fibrosis were 1 in 4. Blake was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis as an infant. Blake has had three sinus surgeries, one of which required four trips to St. Louis in one week. “I know down the line that Blake will be in the same boat Brad was,” Brenda says. But for now, Blake is a wild, red-headed 7-year-old who idolizes his big brother and keeps the whole family on their toes. And between him and Bradley, they make it hard for Brenda to keep food in the house.

One side effect of cystic fibrosis is that patients have a healthy appetite, but don’t gain weight. Blake and Bradley are voracious eaters, who need to eat often. “They have to take pills when they eat to help absorb the fat in the food,” Brenda says. “They’re constantly hungry.” When they’re feeling up to it, Bradley and Blake go deer-hunting with Brian. The family butchers their own deer meat, and eats it all year long to save on buying beef and pork.

Brenda visits Chester Christian Food Pantry to help stretch their grocery budget. “Whatever I get at the food pantry, that’s what I don’t have to buy at the grocery store,” Brenda says. “I can use that extra money for the trips to St. Louis.” Brenda and Brian pay all the bills of a regular family – mortgage, utilities, phone and car payments. But the added expenses of trips to the doctor, food and gas, mean they sometimes need a little extra help.

Their extended families have helped emotionally and financially, pitching in whenever they can. When Bradley turned 16, his grandparents and aunt and uncles pooled their resources to buy him a car. Brenda, Brian and Bradley, now 21, understand what this disease means in the long-term. But Bradley’s outlook has always been positive. “Brad always says he ‘lives life to the fullest,’” Brenda says. “And he does.”

The Ruebke family shared their story in mid-March 2012 with Bethany Prange, communications coordinator at the St. Louis Area Foodbank. Their personal circumstances may have changed since the original interview.



Published in Hunger Stories

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