Andrea Coleman received help from the Neediest Cases Fund last month to help pay her electric bill. After working for most of her life, an injury forced her out of work and onto disability.Staff photo by Jake Daniels
Andrea Coleman started working when she was just 12 years old, cleaning a neighbor's home for a $1 a day plus a quarter for every night she washed the dishes.
She worked 19 years at a local Kmart as a cashier and a supervisor, until she developed ganglion cysts on both hands and ended up having several surgeries to remove them.
She was told by doctor she could lose use of both hands if she continued working, so she finally had to stop in 1995.
"It was awful" to be told at age 43 she couldn't work anymore, said the Chattanooga resident, sitting beneath family pictures in her living room. One photo showed her with her husband, Quenston, on their wedding day 38 years ago.
"I wanted to be useful. Being a mom is important because my daughter was 13 at that time, but you are used to working," she added.
With her disability check and her husband's job, the family made ends meet until 2008 when, after 18 years as a probation and parole officer, Quenston Coleman was among hundreds laid off.
Andrea Coleman had to start using her disability check to make their house payment, pay utility bills and buy food.
She said her husband has been looking for a job but hasn't found anything. He also has health problems, including diabetes, and has applied for disability.
Because they don't have car payments and their mortgage payment is low, she said they have typically managed just fine with her income and help from family. But this month she couldn't afford to pay her $300 power bill.
"I had gotten a notice that said I needed to call to make payment arrangements, but when you get a check once a month, there are no arrangements to make," she said. "That's it."
She was referred to the Partnership for Families, Children and Adults, which was able to pledge $156 toward her light bill using the Times Free Press Neediest Cases Fund.
She was so happy to get the help right away, she even asked the case manager at the Partnership if she could hug her.
The money was a "blessing," said Coleman, a petite 4 feet 10 inches with a smile that lights up a room.
Despite the family's financial situation, Coleman, 58, doesn't hesitate to lend a hand to others in need.
She remembers a saying of her grandmother's: "You are a child of God and he is going to take care of you if you live right." She tries to live right every day.
Whenever possible, she wraps a couple of dollar bills with a Bible verse and leaves them for people to find.
In her mind, whoever finds the money is led to it because God wanted to help them. In the note, she simply says it's from a "guardian angel."
"I don't have a lot of money, but everyone is having a hard time," said Coleman.
Perla Trevizo joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 2007 and covers immigration/diversity issues and higher education. She holds a master’s degree in newswire journalism from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid, Spain, and a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Texas. In 2011 she participated in the Bringing Home the World international reporting fellowship program sponsored by the International Center for Journalists, producing a series on Guatemalan immigrants for which she ...