PROVIDENCE - One soft-spoken Cranston resident said that she never dreamed that she'd find herself stricken with cancer and sitting in a cold apartment, desperately trying to find a way to pay her mounting utility bills. Thanks to the assistance provided by Bishop Thomas J. Tobin's "Keep the Heat On" Challenge, the grateful woman will be warm this winter as she slowly tries to get her life back on track and optimistically looks forward to a bright future.
The 50-year-old woman, who was diagnosed with breast cancer last June, underwent a partial mastectomy in early November, and takes several medications to prevent the disease from further damaging her already frail body.
"I am still very nauseous," the woman said, adding that until she found a small apartment in Cranston that she was able to afford late last fall, she lived for several months on the streets and in shelters throughout the state.
"I was in a battered situation," the woman reported, noting that she decided to end a two-year relationship after being beaten several times and landing in a hospital emergency room with broken ribs.
"I made a space for myself in an abandoned building with a comforter and some blankets that I got from one of the shelters," she said, adding that security guards from a nearby factory befriended her and watched out for her safety.
The woman, who said that she was often afraid to sleep in the shelters because of fights and threats from other clients, stated that she spends most of her small Supplemental Security Income check on rent, and has little money left for food and utilities. She admitted to falling behind on her rent and has been threatened with eviction. Wearing a thin nylon jacket, she rides buses all day, traveling from one social service agency to another, seeking help to escape her distressful situation.
In desperation, she turned to the Comprehensive Community Action Program in Cranston, and McAuley House in Providence, where she received rental assistance and help applying for food stamps.
A social worker at McAuley House directed the woman to the Interfaith Community Dire Emergency Fund, where she completed necessary paperwork and was subsequently approved for a grant supported by the "Keep the Heat On" Challenge. Bishop Tobin's fund was able to pay the grateful woman's gas bill, which not only prevented her heat from being shut off, but also restored her dignity.
"My doctor's told me that I need to take good care of myself," she said. "I appreciate the fund's help. Without heat, I would just get sicker."
To donate to Bishop Tobin's "Keep the Heat On" Challenge, send checks, payable to the "Interfaith Community Dire Emergency Fund," 184 Broad St., Providence, R.I. 02903, and note "Keep the Heat On" on the check; or visit www.heatri.com and use the secure Web site for credit card donations.
(This article originally appeared in The Providence Visitor)