Recovering from surgery last week, Tiffany Brown is fighting two battles. After being diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time, she had to close her business in January. She was making ends meet with house visits to her clients but when the coronavirus hit, she has had to stay home because she is worried about her health and her lowered immunity. Tiffany is a single mother having raised two successful daughters, both training to be medical professionals as a med student and PA student. “I never thought I would be down like this,” she says, which is what made her reach out to United Way 211. She received financial assistance to pay her mortgage and feed her family as she fights cancer with her business closed. “It’s helped me more than I knew. I aim to donate and spread the kindness back when I can again.” Tiffany received assistance from the cancer center and for her mortgage both through United Way 211.
Savannah & Andrew’s Story
Andrew and I are both from Alabama. He’d moved to Savannah in 2018 to take an engineering job and I followed him shortly after, working for a nonprofit organization in the area. On our way home to Birmingham for Christmas a few months ago, I got a notification on my phone. It was for a really, really good deal on a flight: $480, roundtrip, to Madrid, Spain. It felt like a sign. We had both been wanting to travel; to see more of the world around us. We were also both at points in our jobs where we’d realized we weren’t all that happy; we’d talked about making career changes and had started putting feelers our for openings in both of our industries. What if we took some time off, in that in-between phase? Explored Europe for a month? Found new jobs to start upon our return? We talked about it, and decided there wouldn’t be another opportunity like this for a while. We bought our tickets right then and there. I couldn’t wait to tell my parents! WE WERE GOING TO SPEND A MONTH ABROAD!
Shortly after we’d started planning our once-in-a-lifetime trip, we started hearing about this new virus breaking out in some parts of China. Of course, I felt bad for those affected, but Wuhan, China was so far away from my life in Savannah; the novel coronavirus, at that time, didn’t have anything to do with me.
I was watching live, when President Trump stated that the US would be initiating a European travel ban, effective a few days after that first press conference. This was the ultimate determination and the conclusive reality I’d tried tirelessly to avoid: our trip was cancelled. I was devastated.
We weren’t just upset about the loss of our trip. By that point, Andrew and I had already put in our notices with our jobs, and our last days were quickly approaching. We were faced with the harsh reality of the two of us being unemployed for the foreseeable future. The uncertainty of it all – our future, our finances, our survival – kept me up at night, and I was pretty depressed for a while.
Then, things here got bad.
All life is valuable, and the effects that this coronavirus has had on the millions and millions of people all across the world is equally devastating no matter who you are or where you’re from. However, the effects didn’t feel all that palpable until they were here – and suddenly, they were. They were very much here.
Unemployment across the nation rose to record numbers, worse than the country had ever seen. My dad was laid off. My friend’s wedding got cancelled. Another friend couldn’t deliver her baby with her mom by her side. My grandma couldn’t have all of her kids and grandkids and great-grandkids over to her house for Sunday lunch, a tradition she’d established more than forty years ago, and leaned on even more after her husband died last year.
Thousands upon thousands of people were dying. Suddenly, my trip wasn’t relevant. Neither was the fact that Andrew and I didn’t have jobs.
We weren’t the only ones affected by this, as we had foolishly thought a few short weeks ago. The entire country – the entire world – was grieving. And, for many, it was in much larger ways than not seeing the Eiffel Tower.
Where I was bitter before, I became grateful. My issues were so small, compared to what many other people were experiencing around the world – and right here in my own backyard. Could I turn that gratitude into something more meaningful; something that could help someone else, even?
Andrew and I now had all of this extra time on our hands, and I knew that I could help my community by simply volunteering a little bit of that time to a great cause. I immediately contacted United Way and anxiously waited to hear back from someone about volunteer opportunities.
It wasn’t long before Andrew and I were on the calendar to help bag lunches for the “Backpack Buddy” program. He was just as excited as I was to get out of our schlump and help out someone in need. We drove over to the Liberty County office a few days later and got to work. It was weird, putting on gloves and a face mask. But Andrew, the other volunteers, and I smiled at each other underneath the uncomfortable coverings, and the room felt a little lighter. Then, we got to work.
We followed our coordinator’s instructions and soon got into a rhythm of efficiency. We had a line of operation where one of us would open the bag, the next would throw in a few proteins like canned lasagna or pork and beans, the next would add some apple sauce and a few packets of PB&J, and the next would tie it all up. Then, we’d toss the lunch packs into the rolling garbage cans with each school district’s name written in Sharpie on the side.
In just a couple of hours, we ended up bagging over 400 lunches for low-income kids in the district. Those bags would help families who otherwise couldn’t afford nutritional meals over the weekend feed themselves and their children. The program was established and the children on it had been receiving the “backpacks” even before this crisis began, but I’m sure that many of the families were more grateful for this small relief during these already-trying times.
What I am trying to do is urge others to get out of their own heads sooner than I did myself. If you’re lucky enough, like Andrew and I are, to have a little money in your savings accounts and support systems to lean on when that runs dry, then why not do something for someone in need? And that also goes for those who are more severely affected by this coronavirus! Helping others is good for anyone.
The French Riviera will always be there. I’m hopeful that Andrew and I will be able to see it one day, when this is all over and the world has healed. Until then, however, we’re choosing to give back, stay home, and have hope.
One Thursday you’re having lunch at home before your evening shift, and the power goes out. You realize that the bill needed to be paid nearly a week ago. You then attempt to get in your car and drive to the nearest utilities company to discuss your options, but your engine starts smoking. Frightened and annoyed, you check your account to figure out how to split your funds between your car and your electricity, but there’s hardly any there to begin with. Then you receive an unexpected phone call from your job telling you that your pay will decrease drastically, due to an unexpected, worldwide pandemic. Everyone in your household is depending on you, but you just aren’t sure how you’re going to fix it all this time. For some, this is the most severe possible outcome. For many of our neighbors, co-workers, friends, and family it’s a reality.
Sonya Smesta, a hard-working, single parent, had no idea what she would be up against only months ago. The year 2020 began like any other—visitors and locals busying themselves with Savannah’s many New Year festivities. Life went on as usual for Sonya, as with many others. Covid-19 had been a mere story that people heard in passing. How could anyone predict the impact that it would have on thousands of people? In the following months, Sonya would discover the impact to be a major one, indeed.
Sonya found herself in a difficult situation when she’d heard the unfortunate news of her venue shutting down. For several years, her days revolved around serving numerous guests at a popular Savannah eatery, cleaning several other restaurants, and raising her family. However, her admirable work ethic was not enough to keep the doors open in the midst of a pandemic. With a rapid decrease in hungry guests, her employers were forced to dismiss Sonya as well as many others almost indefinitely. In addition to her sudden unemployment, her car broke down—leaving her feeling utterly helpless and alone. She had no idea where the financial assistance would come from. “Reaching out to someone for financial help is not exactly easy,” said Sonya. “I have a lot of pride.”
Fortunately, with the help of United Way of Coastal Empire, Sonya was able to put her worries to rest. She placed a phone call to United Way’s 2-1-1 hotline, where she was able to receive funds in order to pay her rent.
“Everything was done with kindness and compassion. They treated me with such integrity…I found relief, and a lot of the burden was lifted quite quickly,” said Sonya, graciously.
We are so proud to help out those in need. We are happy that Sonya was provided with the assistance that she needed in order to breathe a little easier. We seek to aid residents like Sonya because United Way believes that a little help goes a long way. In times like this, we want to be the support that you never thought you needed.
MRS. MERCY’S STORY
At 87 and with health issues, Mrs. Mercy is one of the most at-risk of serious harm from COVID-19. Afraid to go outside of her home and with no family nearby, she had prepared her pantry but ran out of food. She contacted our Liberty County service center and we sent a willing volunteer. She went to several stores to make sure she got every item on Mrs. Mercy’s grocery list before dropping them safely off at her home. Mrs. Mercy called to say she was grateful for the groceries, but maybe even more so for the connection, even if it was from six feet away.
One of the families we assisted was a single father with 5 children. He suffers from Multiple Sclerosis and receives disability in the amount of $780 per month. A low cost, extended stay hotel in Savannah ranges around the $350 mark per week. To ensure his family has a roof over their head, he had been taking day labor jobs when he was well enough to supplement his disability check. Due to COVID19, there is almost no labor work for him to do and frankly, with his weakened immune system, as the sole caregiver for his children, is afraid to be exposed.