Martin Luther King had a dream...but this wasn't it.The handyman John at my condo is a warm and friendly guy, with a big belly and a big smile. He is in his late 40's and we all consider him to be a good worker. He works part-time because that is all we need but he wants more hours desperately. He asks for them constantly. He was hired with the promise of more. John has no car and takes 3 buses to get here. He makes $15 an hour and we pay for his bus fare. John grew up in rural Mississippi and appears to have had little formal education.
Ten days ago he almost had a heart attack. They say it was averted by all the aspirins he was taking for his headaches. John was in the hospital for over a week, still he came into work yesterday...the day after he got out. They sent him home. He talked to one of the neighbors before he left. He said he had 7 prescriptions and no money to pay for them. We collected from the neighbors and then drove him down to Walgreen's and entered him in a limited income prescription program. He didn't know how to ask for it. While waiting for the drugs I gave him a lecture about sodium, his doctor told him to avoid salt. He looked at me blankly. It took me a while to realize that he didn't know that sodium meant salt. I showed him product labels. Could he read? I wasn't sure. I asked him his favorite foods. Barbecued Potato chips and Milk Chocolate was the answer. I showed him the panels on these items and the sodium contents. I bought him pretzels without salt, sugarless milk and semi sweet chocolate (told him to melt the two together in the microwave) and a salt substitute seasoning to sprinkle on fish and chicken. He had no idea how to interpret the panels on the food labels. What chance would he have trying to eat more healthy? I predict little. The sweetened oatmeal he liked so much was loaded with sugar and salt. The soups he fancied were highly salted. Poor John.
John and his family, from North Miami, are destined for welfare as his health deteriorates because he has nothing to offer in the job market except the strength of his body. I am not optimistic for him.
If you are one of the people who is apt to call welfare recipients moochers I hope you will be reminded of this story of a man who really tries, who begs for more work, who takes 3 buses for a 5 hour a day job for which he takes home about $60 a day, or less than $15,000 a year. There is no pension or health insurance for him but plenty of medical expense because no one ever bothered to teach him what to eat.
When I hear people complain about their circumstances, I will similarly think of John who fell through the educational cracks, the job market cracks and our health system cracks. What chance does he have? God, as he said, is his only hope.
(Photo illustrations do not depict the real John)