Never did the 62-year-old teacher foresee such hard times.
She is embarrassed. Doesn’t want her name used.
Earlier this year, she was hospitalized with a stroke and now faces a $3,000 medical bill. Her 67-year-old husband, “the love of my life,” recently had several medical procedures done on his heart.
“It is killing me to try and keep up with the medical bills,” she said. “I tried but we keep going further in debt. It is embarrassing to not make your bills. But everything is going up and my pay is staying the same. With new taxes and insurance, your income goes way down. Sometimes you have to make a decision – do I buy food, a prescription or pay the bill?”
The teacher is one of many now applying to Share the Season for help. The joint project of the Salvation Army, Wichita Community Foundation and The Eagle offers one-time aid to people affected by unexpected hardships. People can apply for assistance online and at the Salvation Army headquarters.
“We are seeing many people with medical issues who have gotten into financial need because of what’s going on with that,” said Cheryl Warne, director of the Salvation Army’s emergency social and disaster service. “We are also seeing people who are underemployed who have been laid off, may have found other jobs but not at the rate of pay that met the number of hours they had been working before.”
Starting Thanksgiving Day, The Eagle will feature a daily story of someone in need. Those who are featured will remain anonymous, but their need will be verified by the Salvation Army.
Among them is a 57-year-old woman who says she is at the end of her options. In June, she moved from Oklahoma to Wichita hoping to find a better job and life to support her 19-year-old disabled son. She found a part-time job, but the $200 a week she brings home is not enough to pay for rent, prescriptions, medical bills and food.
“I have been denied every type of assistance,” she told The Eagle.
She has applied for disability from Social Security for her son and is waiting.
She is hoping to find a full-time job and to get caught up on some of the bills.
“This is the first time I’ve been in a situation where I can’t see my way out,” she said.
On her application, she wrote:
“I have exhausted all of my savings,” she wrote. “The only thing left to do is live on the streets as I cannot keep going the way that we are.”
Shelly Chenoweth Prichard, president and CEO of the Wichita Community Foundation, said Share the Season “is important to Wichita because it helps folks with a crisis through that very special time of the year. It provides them a little edge to get back on their feet.
“We get feedback from recipients who have been helped who say, ‘I didn’t know where else to turn.’ They didn’t qualify for assistance with other programs because they were working but they had this huge blip on the radar that was making it hard to get by. We help them turn the corner to get back on their feet. Every gift is important. We’ve had people walk checks into our office who got help two years ago or who we helped their mom three years ago and this is the family’s way of thanking us and helping other people.”
Share the Season is a grassroots approach in which the majority of donors send what they can – $5, $10 or $25 – while some donors contribute $5,000 to $10,000.
Last year, nearly 1,000 donors gave more than $248,000 to help 235 families in need.
The average recipient receives help toward paying mortgage, utility or medical bills. Payments are made directly to creditors.
In the 14 years that Share the Season has been in existence, it has raised more than $2 million to help more than 2,700 families.
The original concept for the program came when local philanthropist Mary Lynn Oliver told Wichita Community Foundation leaders about a program in Santa Fe, N.M., called “The Empty Stocking Fund,” which then served as the prototype for Share the Season.
In the first several years, the Wichita Community Foundation provided seed money to help the campaign. In more recent years, contributions have continued to pour in after the holiday season; some have been used to help people with unexpected needs at other times of the year. In addition, Share the Season had $22,000 left over from last year to help jump-start this year’s campaign.
The foundation now sends out letters to past donors in October to start the year’s campaign. So far, Share the Season has raised $57,000.
The 62-year-old teacher said she will be grateful for any help she receives from Share the Season. Once she is back on her feet, she plans to again become a donor.
“I will pay it forward. I always have,” she said.”