Mary’s Story

Helping a senior repair her car so she could drive neighbors to medical appointments

While Mary now was in her 80’s, she wasn’t slowing down. After a lifetime of work, including 30 years as a bank loan officer, this was her time to give back.

Her favorite charitable work was providing transportation to patients needing to get to their doctors, dentists or hospitals. Most were elderly like herself. Friends in Service Helping, also known as F.I.S.H. asks volunteers like Mary to work at least once a month and more often, weekly.

But Mary’s beloved work was in jeopardy. Her 12-year-old car with 80,000 miles of wear and tear broke down. Not just the starter, which would cost $800 to replace, but also her tires and battery needed replacement.

Living on a $750 monthly pension and minimal Social Security, and with less than $400 savings, she hit a wall financially.

“I was able to borrow $400, but I couldn’t put the rest on my credit card,” she recalled. “I was stressed, of course, but I was more bereft because I loved driving people to their medical appointments. It made me feel so valued.”

That’s when a friend who recently had been helped by Lower Cape Outreach Council suggested Mary visit its chief operating officer, Gennie Moran, and see if she could get help repairing her car.

“Gennie was absolutely wonderful. She greeted me like family, and put me immediately at ease,” said Mary, whose name is changed to protect her privacy. “I never like asking for help. There are many other neighbors more deserving than I am, but I so wanted to continue volunteering.

“LCOC wrote me a check for $400 right there for my starter repair, and then helped me replace my tires and battery. I was back in action. I was so grateful. When I got off the phone with Gennie, I cried in gratitude. I never told her that, but now everyone reading this story will know.”

“True, LCOC, comes to the aid of many people in dire need because of a medical emergency or a lost job. But, a great number of clients are like Mary,” explained Moran. “They just hit a road bump and need a quick financial hand. It can make all the difference, and in Mary’s case, our help rippled into the community since she was able to continue her volunteer work.”

Annually LCOC distributes about $1.4 million in financial aid to clients like Mary, as well as $650,000 in distributed food, $100,000 in clothing and $35,000 worth of toys to neighbors across the Lower Cape.

Mary’s case is not unusual across the Cape and nation.

About 45 percent of seniors rely on Social Security for 90 percent or more of their income, according to the Social Security Administration.  This means the average senior will have to live on about $18,000 a year in benefits. That puts them too near the individual poverty level of slightly more than $12,000.

In Mary’s case, she supplements Social Security with her $9,000 annual pension, but that barely gets her above $25,000.  Housing alone eats up more than half that, before paying for food, and medical costs.

Nationwide, median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the top 50 U.S. cities is roughly $1,250, and on Cape Cod that is likely higher. And that’s before utilities, food and medical costs.

Two other startling statistics: Medical costs – even with Medicare and supplemental insurance – can represent more than 30 percent of a senior’s budget, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Meanwhile, close to half of all seniors currently have nothing set aside for an emergency, Unfortunately, emergencies like Mary’s car repair happen.

“I’m so fortunate. I’m still kicking around,” Mary laughs. “I’ve been blessed. I have worked as a teacher, at a bank. I’m well educated and traveled. But, I also am divorced and living alone now. My car has been a lifeline, but like me, it’s very old.”

Mary also volunteers at her local Council on Aging and at her church.  Now, she’s hoping to give back directly to the Lower Cape Outreach Council.

“I’ve asked Gennie how I can volunteer there. That’s how I hope to pay back their loan.”

Maybe, she’ll be the one welcoming another neighbor walking through LCOC’s doors uncertain and maybe embarrassed to ask for some help. “I would love to put them at ease like I was,” said Mary.

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