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Sandra Cain works to help others despite being in need herself / Photo by Bethany Prange

Sandra lost her mother and her husband in the span of just a few years.

While driving with a friend through the terrible snow storm of 1982, Sandra’s mother went missing. For a month, dozens of search parties turned up empty. Finally, a truck driver discovered her mother’s car accident in a frozen creek bed.

Just three years later, Sandra’s husband, David Cain, succumbed to cirrhosis of the liver. He had been sick with the disease for several years, leaving Sandra to serve as his caretaker.

When her husband died, Sandra did her best to survive on his veteran benefits. She worked when she could, day-sitting with elderly citizens who were unable to care for themselves.

Before his death, Sandra and David had moved her mother’s trailer to a small piece of rural property on the outskirts of Washington County.

Sandra still lives in the 1974 single-wide. But as the years have passed, the trailer has needed upkeep that she could not afford. Now, she lives in only the portion of the trailer that is safe to occupy.

Sandra worked most of her life, and had managed a women’s clothing store in Centralia for more than a decade. But in later years, a back injury prevented her from finding full-time employment.

When she became eligible, Sandra filed for social security. But like many in her age group, she had little money left over for food. In 1990, she began going to the food pantry in her hometown of Centralia, Ill.

“I couldn’t make ends meet,” she says. “I don’t go all the time – only when I’m really low on money.”

Sandra receives food stamps, but sometimes even those aren’t enough to stretch her meager budget.

In January, she was relieved when her monthly social security payment increased from $694 to $719. But then in March, her food stamp allotment when down from $51 to $40, negating the increase.

“Everything else is going up,” Sandra says. “Food stamps are something that helps feed you to keep you alive.”

Sandra is fortunate to have a car, since her rural address would make it impossible for her to receive food assistance from the Irvington Food Pantry and other resources without transportation.

She admits though, she wouldn’t have the car, or much else, without help from her daughter, Tina, and the kindness of others in the community.

“A friend bought me a used car because he says I’m his chauffer and drive him everywhere,” she says with a smile.

When that car quit running, a close friend of her daughter’s donated her family’s extra car to Sandra.

“She said ‘Centralia’s Taxi Service has to have a car,’” Sandra says.

Sandra helps care for sick friends and provides friends and neighbors with rides to the doctor, the food pantry and government offices to pick up food stamps.

Sandra helps one neighbor who lives in a house with no heat or electricity. He carries in his water and cooks on a small gas stove, often with a flashlight.

Sandra says her friend rides a bicycle and doesn’t get food stamps because the nearest office is in Carlyle and he can’t get there.

“I’ve got it hard, but he has it harder,” Sandra says. “There’s so many more out there worse off than me.”

This story was told to St. Louis Area Foodbank Communications Coordinator Bethany Prange in March 2012. Some circumstances may have changed.

     Bethany Prange is the communications coordinator at the St. Louis Area Foodbank