Community compassion drives effort to help disabled veteran out of uninhabitable living situation
When Beth Newkirk learned how her friend was living, she couldn’t sit and wait for somebody else to help.
When Monty Robertson went to help, he realized quickly just how bad the situation was was.
Newkirk and Robertson work and volunteer at the Community Kitchen at St. Michael’s Church in Craig. Through Newkirk’s efforts to get food and other services to shut-ins and others in need, she learned that an elderly, disabled veteran friend of hers and the kitchen’s was in a bad spot.
“We heard he as trying to get moved to a different living situation,” Newkirk said. “Debbie Belleville, she’s a veterans advocate and she was working on it too. But we just knew we had to step in and get him out of that situation.”
The Vietnam veteran, who uses a wheelchair for mobility, had fallen through the floor of the dilapidated mobile home. A sink had been dripping, maybe for months. There was mold everywhere. Plywood was covering holes or soft spots in the floor. It wasn’t good.
Newkirk wasn’t willing to accept it. She sent a volunteer, Robertson, who helps out with handyman-type jobs when necessary, to fix the sink, at least.
“They asked me to fix a water leak under his kitchen sink,” Robertson said. “It was probably due to a plumber coming and putting in a faucet for him, but he said the plumber said he’d come back to fix it. Well he never came. That was months ago, and it was just spraying. It was his only source of water, his hot water heater was shut off, the forced air furnace was off. The floor was unbelievable.”
The man had a truck, though it didn’t run. The wheelchair didn’t fit through the front door, but, Robertson said, there was a larger door in the truck. The man’s brother, he said, was supposed to come install it.
“I know this guy’s brothers,” Robertson said. “The one died 16 years ago. The other seven years ago. This just hit me — this guy doesn’t have anybody. I fixed the water, but looking around just said, ‘You can’t live like this.’”
Belleville, Newkirk said, had helped secure a new place to live, but moving was hitting some snags. That’s where the kitchen came in.
“We worked as a team,” Newkirk said. “Several volunteers from the kitchen, bless their hearts. We needed him moved that Monday and so we got it done.”
It was a gruesome job. But it was a labor of love.
“We wore gloves and masks,” Newkirk said. “It was really sad, but what bothered me the most was to think that our veterans were getting treated like this. It’s very sad. I’m sure he’s not the only veteran in Moffat County in need, but this gentleman. No heat, water dripping. No one deserves to live like that.”
The service fell on a grateful man.
“He’s such a nice guy,” Newkirk said. “Very grateful, the kindest things. There are things we take for granted — hot water, he couldn’t wait to get moved to finally have a hot shower. That made me think about a lot of things. I take a shower every day, and I don’t think about not having hot water to access.”
For the crew, the opportunity to serve was, as Newkirk said it, extremely hard to put into words.
“It’s indescribable,” she said. “That’s the only word. There’s no way to express how I felt.”
And for the recipient of this good service, it changed his life.
“He’s completely different,” Newkirk said. “It’s taken a while for him to get used to a clean, safe environment, to have hot water accessible. He’s so grateful. And I told him this isn’t a drop in the bucket as to what you deserve for putting your life on the line for all of us. It’s touched him, and I think we probably have a friendship that’s even stronger than in the past.”
Robertson has felt the power of the effort as well, though he notes it’s not done. Money is needed, and Robertson is looking at setting up an account to receive donations at a local bank. He’s hopeful the community will continue to chip in to help this neighbor in need.
“There are good people here, and throughout the country, really,” Robertson said. “It’s sad you don’t always hear about those good things as much as other things, but there are good people. A lot of good people are in Craig, and there’s a lot in all communities, really.”
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