A Full Belly for the Whole Family
It was only months earlier that these close companions were both going hungry. Half of the 1,500 homebound seniors served by MOW's Sacramento branch have pets, and many of them were sharing their lunches -- often their only substantial daily meal -- with their beloved dogs and cats. The group got wind of the problem after drivers came to collect the trays and often found them left outside on porches, next to water bowls, obviously licked clean. MOW initially collected broken or outdated bags of food from the local animal shelter, but the 1,200 pounds they distributed every month didn't even begin to fill the bellies of so many hungry pets. Then last May MOW program manager Janine Brown received a call from Royal Canin, a pet-food company that wanted to help by donating 65,000 pounds of food -- enough to meet MOW's needs for a year not only in Sacramento but in several neighboring counties as well.
Life had changed quickly for Beard. Two years earlier she never dreamed she would ever be worried about putting food on the table. Separated since 1999 from her husband, she was working as a part-time receptionist and earned a decent income, which went toward the rent on her trailer, her car payments, and other living expenses. But in November 2004 she suffered a mild stroke while driving and rear-ended a truck. An air bag spared her any broken bones, but the impact worsened her back pain. Beard had to quit her job, and she received little financial support from her friends, family, or husband, leaving her to subsist on $750 monthly Social Security payments.
She couldn't keep up with the bills. Her rent and car payments alone came to some $525. Beard had already stopped taking her various medications for diabetes and heart problems. She lived on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches three meals a day, seven days a week. Allowing herself to go hungry was one thing, but how could she not provide for Sydney, the faithful companion who had seen her through her crumbling marriage? So she spent more than half of her $45 monthly grocery money on dog food; even so, it wasn't enough to keep Sydney well fed. But at least Beard had a sense of security. "Without her, I can't sleep," she says. "She's my beacon in the night, my lifeguard."
But Beard hadn't realized how unsteady on her feet she had become without her medication. While walking outside her trailer a month after her stroke, she fell after having barely taken 10 steps. Unable to get up on her own, she lay waiting on the street for 15 minutes for someone to see her. Then she saw it -- a garbage truck, barreling straight toward her. Frantic, she managed to wave her arms and alert the driver, who stopped, got out and called to a woman across the street to help him move Beard. The woman, who happened to be a MOW driver, asked Beard about her falls and her difficulty standing and walking, and suggested to her supervisor that Beard be part of the MOW program; she received her first meal a few days later.