Reta and Jerald's story

Reta and Jerald Mash have spent a lifetime working and helping others, and now they need little help in return.

IMG_0551The Nelsonville couple is raising three grandchildren and one great-grandchild, while dealing with several serious health problems. Plus, they have a very limited income, no car and no way to do anything special for the grandchildren, such as just taking them to McDonald’s once in a while.

Jerald, 68, worked as a farmhand in McArthur and enjoyed his job until the early 1990s when he injured his back while loading hay. He was unable to work after that because of the back problems, but his job did not provide for Social Security pay, health insurance or other benefits that could have helped him after he was injured. He was eventually able to receive SSI, and currently receives assistance from that program.

After earning her degree from Hocking College, Reta worked as a dietician in Lancaster for nine years and then in Athens County for one year. She lost her job in Athens County, though, when the company cut back on staff in the early 1990s.

“It sent me into a depression,” said Reta, who is 64. She also had knee and back problems at the same time, and suffered a nervous breakdown while trying to cope with everything that was happening to her.

“That was my career. It wasn’t just a job,” she said. She had worked very hard to earn her degree, and she enjoyed the positions in Lancaster and Athens County. When the last job did not work out, it was a crushing blow for her, she said. She was not able to work after that due to the physical health problems and the emotional stress. Eventually, she was able to receive SSI. Today, Reta and Jerald each receive a little over $500 per month in SSI.

The family also receives $259 per month in Ohio Works First (OWF) funding for one of the grandchildren, as well as funding from the state Food Assistance program and housing assistance from the federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) program. The money they have doesn’t go far when they have to pay rent, cover all of their bills, buy food for the grandchildren and great-grandchild and pay for extra expenses for all of the family members.

Reta and Jerald had a vehicle last year, but they were not able to afford to make the payments so they had to let it go. So now, they walk wherever they need to go, or they rely on rides from family members and friends. Reta used to see doctors in Lancaster for counseling and for her pain, but she hardly ever goes anymore because she has no way to get there. The family also had money stolen out of its bank account in the last year, and that theft wiped out the little strides they had been making financially.

“We have no bank account,” Reta said, adding that they closed it after the theft. “I just don’t trust anybody anymore.”

The family does not eat fresh fruits or vegetables very often, because they are simply too expensive. Other expensive items like milk and cereals are also often a rarity in the household, because they cost too much and are eaten up too quickly. Reta looks for items like ramen noodles or macaroni and cheese that can get the family by for a longer period of time. Recently, for example, macaroni and cheese was on sale for $0.25 per box, so she got as many boxes as she could afford.

It’s a rarity to eat out, which is especially hard on the youngest grandchild who would like to eat out just as her friends do.

“She just wants to be a normal 13-year-old,” Reta said. “It’s a shame.”

Jerald added that he and his wife simply can’t afford to pay for things that other people take for granted.

“It’s bad when it’s on the Dollar Menu and you can’t afford it,” Jerald said.

One huge problem with the family’s food supply is that Jerald is diabetic and should be eating foods that fit well with his condition. He cannot afford many of the foods he is supposed to eat, though, and he knows that he is not eating as he should. For example, the family cannot afford the fresh fruits that would be good for him, and instead can only afford canned fruits. The problem with this is that the canned fruits often have large amounts of syrup in them, and that’s bad for Jerald.

If the monthly OWF payments could be increased by $100, or really any significant amount, it would help the family a great deal, Reta said. They would be able to pay for more items that their grandchildren need and they might be able to afford to have a car again. Any extra money would help them in just getting through each month.

With the limited amount of money they have now, holidays and birthdays can be very trying.

“Christmas was horrible,” Reta said. Last Christmas, she wanted to get an MP3 player and a camera for one of the grandchildren, so she ordered from a catalog that allowed her to make payments. The interest on the purchase was 30 percent, but that was the only way Reta could afford the present. The present was a big hit, but the equipment ended up being stolen after Christmas so the grandchild was left with nothing.

“I’m still paying on it now,” Reta said. “I don’t know what I’ll do for next Christmas.”

One other problem the family is currently facing is that they need to move. They live in a two-story duplex in Nelsonville, and the bathroom is on the second floor. Reta has a tough time getting up and down the stairs with her back and leg problems, and Jerald also has a tough time with his back problems. He is also suffering from a hernia and emphysema, and is having trouble handling all of the medical problems.

The ventilation in the current duplex is also not good for his emphysema, and the family would benefit a great deal if it could move, Reta said. It’s very difficult to find a four-bedroom home or apartment that accepts HUD payments, though, and Reta is worried that it will take a long time to find another home.

While many people their age are traveling, relaxing and enjoying their retirements, Reta and Jerald live a hard life that doesn’t show any signs of getting easier. They both are worried about how they will get through each month financially, they both live in pain and they both continue to work hard to do whatever they can for their family.

 “When I go to bed, I fall asleep from exhaustion,” Reta said.

Despite all of their challenges, though, Reta and Jerald are happy. They’re thankful that they have family members who help them out with the grandchildren from time to time, and it’s easy to see that they enjoy having their grandchildren with them.

It’s also easy to see how much they love having their great-grandchild in the house. Reta and Jerald stay with the baby every day, doing all of the feeding and diaper changing. Jerald is not supposed to pick up the baby with his hernia, but he does sometimes anyway, as he worries about the baby much more than he worries about his own health.

Reta loves rocking the baby to sleep, and said that she and Jerald are very happy to be able to care for their great-grandchild in this way.

Life can be pretty tough for Reta and Jerald, but they’re thankful for everything they have. They enjoy their lives, and they’re determined to continue to do whatever they can to help others.

They need more financial help just to get through each month, though, and they need this help soon.