CRANSTON – Mabel Smith never imagined that one day she wouldn’t be able to pay her bills and be forced to ask other people for assistance.
“I’ve always worked two jobs since I was 16 years-old,” Smith recalled, adding that she and her late husband had saved their money, lived modestly and achieved the American dream by purchasing a modest home in the suburbs where they hoped to enjoy a happy retirement.
That dream was shattered two years ago when Smith’s husband died in a state hospital, where he had been a patient for more than two years. Using the couple’s life savings to pay outstanding medical bills, she fell behind on her mortgage. After several months of nonpayment, the bank foreclosed on the property.
“You have to carry on, but it’s difficult,” Smith said, adding that she works more than 30 hours per week at a call center, but still struggles to pay her rent and purchase medications and groceries. When she discovered that a medication she was recently prescribed required a $200 co-pay, she refused the medication and asked her physician to order a less expensive generic drug.
Smith shared that one of her biggest fears is losing her job because of absenteeism. A chronic, debilitating medical condition makes it difficult to perform her job some days, forcing her to stay home.
“It’s one day at a time,” she continued. “I’m scraping to get by. I don’t live high.”
Smith, who worships at St. Peter Church, Warwick, noted that after she pays her bills, there is often little money left to buy groceries. She has visited the parish food pantry and has also benefitted from the generosity of a relative, who generously stocked her home pantry as a Christmas gift, which helped her throughout the winter.
“It’s nerve wracking when you have to watch every penny,” Smith continued. “This is not living — it’s existing — but it’s what I have to do. I’m still very grateful for the many blessings that I have received throughout my life.”
When Smith’s oil tank nearly ran dry last week, she called the Office of Catholic Charities and Social Ministry, recalling the assistance she has received two years ago from Bishop Thomas J. Tobin’s Keep the Heat On program.
After completing an application over the telephone, Smith was informed that she would receive 50 gallons of heating oil the next morning.
“I was panic stricken,” Smith recalled, adding that earlier this winter she also had received oil deliveries from two community agencies. Without the heating assistance, Smith said she couldn’t keep her apartment warm when temperatures dropped.
“I’m very grateful for the oil and for the help that I have received from the diocese,” Smith acknowledged.
She added that she also struggles to maintain her dignity and only had sought heating assistance because it was a dire emergency.
“Every time the furnace goes on, my stomach does a little flip,” she said.
“I’m hoping that the 50 gallons will get me through the winter and into April. I hope that we don’t get another snowstorm.”