Last Thanksgiving Gordon Meeler was confined to his living room. The Marine, who served in Vietnam, is partially paralyzed and his wheelchair could not fit through the hallways of his South Austin home.
Meeler slept in his living room, and unable to access the bathroom, he used tall plastic buckets instead. His kitchen was also inaccessible to him.
Then Meeler was nominated by Family Eldercare to the Austin American-Statesman’s Season for Caring program. On Nov. 29, 2015, Meeler’s story touched many readers. Contractors and remodelers called up that day ready to help.
“They did a good job,” says Meeler, 74. “The kitchen’s perfect. I can actually use it … I can see better in there, and I can get around and reach everything better.”
Season for Caring is the Statesman’s holiday charity program, but the donations help families throughout the year. Each year, local nonprofit agencies nominate families to the program. The 12 selected families get their needs met first, but then the agencies use extra money to help other families with basic needs such as rent, utilities, groceries, medical bills and transportation.
Last night Iraqi war survivor Qusay Hussein, 27, received his GED from Austin Community College. Hussein was part of the 2013 Season for Caring program and was nominated by Interfaith Action of Central Texas.
Season for Caring highlights the needs of about a dozen Central Texas families each year and helps hundreds of others through reader donations.
Hussein came to the States after his face was severely damaged by a bomb when he was 17. The bomb left him blind and he has had multiple surgeries to repair his face, including some this spring.
One of the things Season for Caring donations did for Hussein was help him improve his English. It also connected him with Criss Cole Rehabilitation Center, which taught him how to navigate the city as a person who is blind.
Wednesday morning as staff members at Interfaith Action of Central Texas were coming to work, they noticed their 6-foot-by-12-foot white cargo trailer was gone from their parking lot on East 17th Street.
The trailer with license plate 45ZPSB is used throughout the year for the nonprofit organization’s Hands on Housing program, which repairs homes for people in need. But throughout December and January, it becomes the place where the group stores the in-kind donations for its Season for Caring family.
The Statesman Season for Caring program features the stories of 12 families nominated by local nonprofit groups each year. In-kind donations and monetary donations go to help the featured families as well as hundreds of other families through the nonprofit agencies.
For the 2015 program, Interfaith Action nominated Rosa Lee Pennick, an 85-year-old woman who is caring for three seniors ages 70 to 100 in her home.
Typically, Interfaith Action collects items and then delivers them quickly to the family. But this year, it was waiting to deliver a load of donations until after ABC Home & Commercial completed bed bug eradication this week. ABC had donated 50 percent of the cost of the service to help Pennick.
The trailer was holding a wheelchair, electric scooter with hand controls, large-capacity washer and dryer, a stove/oven, adult diapers and bed pads, worth a total of $3,465.
Interfaith Action has filed a police report and is working with its insurance company to see what might be covered.
If you can donate an item for the Pennick family, contact Interfaith Action, 512-386-9145, interfaithtexas.org. Season for Caring is still collecting monetary donations through Sunday for the 2015 program. Make a donation at statesman.com/seasonforcaring or with the coupon on page D3.
Season for Caring donations for the 2015 program come to a close on Sunday. Consider giving if you haven’t yet or consider making an additional donation if you already have.
We are so close to hitting last year’s numbers. Right now readers have given $573,506 in cash donations and $134,157 for a total of $707,663. That’s only about $6,000 less than last year. 2015 is still the fourth best year in the campaign’s 17-year history. We’ve now raised $9.7 million to help Central Texas nonprofit agencies and their families since 1999.
Or consider giving an in-kind donation to one of the families. Here are their stories and their remaining wish list items:
Mia Garcia, 8, was diagnosed with Langerhans cell histiocytosis, an immune system disease. The family still has a few things on their wish list, including an immigration lawyer; a wedding and wedding rings; a child’s desk; a computer with a printer and Internet access; and a large toy box. Foundation Communities, 512-447-2026, foundcom.org
Gerónimo, 71, and Cordelia, 73, Flores deal with illnesses including heart disease and renal failure. They need reading glasses, household repairs, a computer, printer and car repairs. Meals on Wheels and More, 512-476-6325, mealsonwheelsandmore.org.
Emma Copenhaver, 12, has lupus; her mother, Angel, 28, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and her father, Brett, 27, had to take a pay reduction at work. They need car repairs, assistance with medical bills, household items, an electrician to install ceiling fans and a gym membership with a pool for Emma to swim. Any Baby Can, 512-454-3743,anybabycan.org.
Juana Ramirez, 29, and her two children have come back from homelessness. They still need help with physical therapy and emotional therapy for 8-year-old Marcus. Communities In Schools of Central Texas, 512-462-1771, ciscentraltexas.org.
Tabitha McGee, 42, has had breast cancer, and she and her daughters need help with utilities payments; bedroom and living room furniture; duct work; a professional cleaning of the heating and air conditioning system; ceiling fans and a car. The Care Communities, 512-459-5883,thecarecommunities.org.
Shawn Guess, 39, has an inoperable brain tumor; his wife, Megan, 34, has common variable immune deficiency, 9-year-old Kylie has juvenile arthritis and asthma; and 3-year-old Carl has a speech delay. They need help with rent and utilities, Internet service, cellphone service, medical debt, car insurance, a dresser and storage for toys. Wonders & Worries, 512-329-5757,wondersandworries.org.
Aimee Shaw, 43, has inflammatory breast cancer. Her son Jared Shaw, 20, has autism and seizures. Her son Justin Cassiday, 26, has post-traumatic stress disorder from serving in Afghanistan. They need help with mortgage payments, utilities, medical bills, student loan debts, car repairs and day care for Cassiday’s daughter Maddy, 3. Breast Cancer Resource Centers of Texas, 512-524-2560, bcrc.org.
June Bonewitz, 44, has cerebral palsy and her husband, Kenneth Bonewitz, 50, has a brain injury from a car accident. They care for her mom, Margie Spinn, 76, who has Alzheimer’s disease. They need Dragon voice-recognition software, training for their dogs to become service animals, entrepreneurial training, funeral planning, legal help for a power of attorney and financial planning. Austin Groups for the Elderly of Central Texas, 512-992-3440, ageofcentraltx.org.
Sherra Parten, 56, her daughter and granddaughter relocated since the Memorial Day weekend flooding destroyed their apartment. They need gift cards for gas, an upright freezer, a bunk bed, a nightstand and a stereo system. Community Action Inc., 512-392-1161,communityaction.com.
Rosa Lee Pennick is 85 and caring for three senior women ages 70-100 in her home. She needs new flooring, remodeling of a dining area into a bedroom, bedroom furniture, a security system with voice alerts and a stove. Interfaith Action of Central Texas, 512-386-9145, interfaithtexas.org.
The Hakizimana family came to the United States from a refugee camp in Tanzania last spring. They just got a used van donated to them, but need car seats for the children, insurance and gift cards for gas. They also need a washer and dryer; a computer; vocational training and English language learning programs. Caritas of Austin, 512-808-9008, caritasofaustin.org.
Gordon Meeler, 73, has had many of his needs fulfilled as his new accessible bathroom and kitchen are being built. The only thing left on his wish are size 7 diabetic shoes with Velcro. Family Eldercare, 512-450-0844, familyeldercare.org.