Okeechobee, Florida- Debbie, 59, rode her stripped down mountain bike slowly beside me as I walked across the Home Depot parking lot in Okeechobee, Florida.
“I may get in trouble for doing this, but I’m desperate for help. I have two little girls at home and its supposed to get cold tonight. The only way I can heat my house is to turn on the oven. Its electric and they shut it off. I paid everything but $18 and they still shut the electric off.”
How old are the girls?
“Seven and nine. They’re in school right now. But I have to get the electric on before they get home. Do you have any work I can do? I’m not looking for a hand-out. I always earn my money. I clean houses. I do yard work. You have any work for me?”
I’m not from Okeechobee. I’m from out -of-town. Was just here buying some things I needed.
“Okay. Well thank you for talking to me. I gotta find someone who needs my help. I’ve been to every store in Okeechobee and they always say ’got nothing right now, come next week.’I gotta find work today so I can pay the electric bill.”
Where is the mother of those two little girls?
“She’s in Ohio. But she’s coming down to take care of ‘em. She’ll be able to find work in Fort Pierce ‘cause its bigger. More jobs there. If I could get there I’d find work too. There are more opportunities in Fort Pierce. Okeechobee is just too small.”
What’s the best job you’ve ever had.
What did you do?
“I pressed shirts. I enjoyed it. But that was in Alabama.”
No laundry jobs here?
“There are two laundries, but both are full. I tried both of them. Don’t think there are any I don’t know about.”
You seem to have had a lot of troubles. So what’s the worst thing you’ve had happen to you?
“My husband died of lung cancer. Two or three packs a day. And I had a house but I lost it.
“One of my daughters got in real bad trouble. I put up house to get her out of jail. Bail. She took off six years ago. They took my house. Haven’t heard word from her since.”
How’s your health?
“I take a bunch of pills. The doctors want to operate on both my feet, but I won’t let them. I have to work to take care of my daughter’s two girls. They won’t do one foot at a time. I have high blood pressure and a spine condition and a degenerative bone condition. But I don’t let those things stop me. I’m on Social Security (SSI) and that’s enough to pay the rent but not anything else. I need work.”
How do your girls eat? Do you get food stamps?
“Yes. And some of the churches have food pantries. But they don’t give out cash. I understand why. Some people would buy liquor or other things if they gave out money. All I need is enough work to earn $18 to pay the electric bill.”
What else do you need?
“I’m out of toilet paper.”
I ducked into my motorhome and produced two rolls. She went into the nearby convenience store and they gave her a plastic bag to hang on her handlebar. Her gratitude seemed sincere for such a token gift.
I try to be careful in a situation like this.