When Janet Magana de Cuevas took her husband to Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Berkeley because he was struggling to breathe, a doctor took one look at her and said she, too, needed to be checked into a room.
Cuevas had COVID-19, just like her husband. Her five kids at home in Vallejo, all between the ages of 8 and 21, had the virus as well, but with milder symptoms. Her entire family was sick, she realized, and while she and her husband were in adjacent hospital rooms trying to recover, her children were miles away, running low on money for food.
“I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what was going to happen to me, to my husband, to the kids because we weren’t at home to help them,” she said of the late March hospital stay. “Luckily, my 21-year-old daughter was there to look after the rest of them, but even she was calling and saying how bills were coming in and that we had run out of the little bit of money we had saved for emergencies.”
Cuevas and her husband left the hospital within two weeks, but both continued testing positive for the virus for several weeks after, which kept her from being able to return to work at Sutter Health, and him at a grocery store in the East Bay. Meanwhile, the bills kept piling up.
Cuevas said she went as far as taking out a title loan on her daughter’s car, and now she owes $6,000 on it, while the car “most likely isn’t worth $3,000.” It was just one of many steps into unfamiliar territory for Cuevas, who said before she and her husband were hospitalized and forced to miss work, they didn’t have any outstanding debts.
“Now, it seems like we owe money everywhere,” she said. “You get depressed with all of this — being broke, being sick, not knowing what you’re going to do, and your debt keeps getting bigger,” she said. “It’s a lot to deal with in a short amount of time.”
While Cuevas was in the hospital, her co-workers helped send a couple of dinners to her kids in Vallejo. And when the youngsters thought they were running low on toilet paper, a family member drove by and tossed some over their fence to them. Cuevas said her mom wanted to help as well, but since she’s older, she didn’t want to risk her being exposed to the virus.
For the most part, her family was on their own. Cuevas said she needed financial assistance, quickly, and in doing research about programs that could help families like hers, she found the Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund.
The fund works year-round to prevent homelessness and hunger in the nine-county Bay Area. All donations go directly to help people in need, with administrative costs covered by The Chronicle and the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund. While the fund couldn’t cover all of her expenses, Cuevas said it covered a month and a half of rent, which allowed her family to save enough cash to pay off a few outstanding bills.
“It kept a roof over our heads,” she said.
With the hospital stay behind her, Cuevas said she often thinks about how her home is the place where her family, including distant relatives, often come to celebrate holidays and birthdays. With more socially distanced family experiences these days, and with money still tight, “a smaller-than-normal Christmas” is around the corner for the kids, she said. But everyone is content with having their health.
The small feeling of normalcy wouldn’t have been possible without Season of Sharing, Cuevas said.
“We still have a long way to go to kind of catch up on bills and things like that, but we’re in a better place than before,” she said. “In the hospital, I was thinking about how I didn’t want to die. I didn’t want my husband to die. And now we still have our home, and we’re figuring out how to make it all work.”
Read the full article at: https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Berkeley-hospital-worker-s-life-gets-15815721.php
Help your Bay Area neighbors today by donating to the Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund: https://seasonofsharing.org/donate-now/. All administrative expenses are covered by the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund and the San Francisco Chronicle so 100% of your tax-deductible donation helps Bay Area residents in need.