Meet Malea: Perseverance and Gratitude

Meet Malea: Perseverance and Gratitude

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“Did you see my ramp?”

There is a plywood ramp leading from Malea Lail’s driveway to the front porch so that her wheelchair can clear the two small steps. This morning it is rain-soaked and feels a bit rickety. “It does the trick though,” she explains. “Plus, it’s not too far to fall!”

Malea’s laugh fills her small Asheboro home easily— it is equal parts jubilant and defiant. It is the type of laugh one develops when they come out the other side of a lot of hard knocks.

Only weeks earlier, Malea’s leg was amputated at the knee. “And it was my GOOD one!” she laughs, slapping her thigh. And it was: more than a decade ago, Malea—a photographer— had fallen on the job, causing a major leg and back injury. The knee in her left leg was repaired, but only to the point that she could walk with a cane, and sometimes a walker. This past spring, Malea stubbed her right toe on her dresser: the type of injury you may have gotten this morning. But for Malea, a diabetic, this small injury morphed into a much larger problem. An infection quickly spread up her foot and, before the doctors could stop it, into her right leg. The only choice was to amputate it.

Malea has taken this all with remarkable stride and with her characteristic optimism and drollery. She jokes about wanting half-price deals on shoes. But, despite all the laughter and joking, she is astute and aware that her story is one that meets at the intersections of disability and poverty.

After her first accident, Malea’s disability claim was denied. She appealed, but later dropped the claim and found part time work restocking the refrigerators at a convenience store. Unable to make ends meet on this job alone, Malea lost her home, became homeless, and in turn lost her job. She dropped a second disability claim in 2009, after waiting with no results for over a year. Finally, in January 2013, a local law firm offered their services to her pro-bono and she agreed to file, once again. That claim was finally approved this past May, more than three years after being filed. She got the letter only weeks before the loss of her “good” leg.

The ability to receive disability has been a game-changer for Malea and she feels so fortunate that she is now helping others out. She used her first disability check, which included a significant back payment, to purchase this small house in Randolph County. She invited a young man who she met while living on the streets to move in. “I can offer him a stable place and he can reach things on the top shelf!” she explains, giggling. Her sister, a hairdresser, has also moved in because her unpredictable wages made it hard for her to pay rent on time elsewhere.

“We all do it together, now” says Malea. She is still decorating the new home, but on the wall in the tiny living room she has put up the words “Family. Joys. Laughter.”

However, living on a fixed income is never easy. Malea receives just $890 a month. “In June, my medications came to be $700. Now, once things with Medicaid get cleared up it should be less, but medicine will still be one of my biggest expenses,” she explains. “And my doctor tells me all the things I should be eating to make my medicines work right, but I can’t afford any of it.”

Malea gets $16 a month in food stamps. “For $16 can buy maybe three meals or keep milk in the house for a couple weeks. I have to decide which I am going to do with it. Can’t do both.” Malea says she purchases a lot of ramen noodles and canned pasta, but rarely can she afford fresh produce or meats. “Fresh stuff seems to be going higher and higher, and the pay rate is going lower and lower. Most of us feel stuck. All of us feel stuck.”

But Malea only expresses gratitude. Gratitude that she has a home of her own, gratitude that she secured disability benefits, gratitude that she is now able to help her sister and her friend. She talks about her dreams for the house: widening the doorway to the bathroom so her wheelchair can get in, adding a drop ceiling to cover the collapsing one in the kitchen, putting in an HVAC system.

“We are going to figure this out!” she says and gives her wheelchair a little spin. “Just keep on rolling!”

Many families seeking food assistance from the Second Harvest network struggle with health issues, with 33% of households having at least one member with diabetes and 60% of households having at least one member with high blood pressure.That is one reason why Second Harvest is steadily increasing the amount of fresh produce we distribute and offering nutritional outreach programs.

Learn more here.

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#economy #foodstamps #Asheboro #hunger #SNAP #northcarolina #foodinsecurity #SecondHarvestFoodBank #RandolphCounty #disability #Randolph #homelessness

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