VCU alumna stocks care in local cupboards

What items are necessary to begin your day or to clean your home? Many people don’t think twice about spending a few extra dollars on popular brand-named shampoos or scented floor cleaners.

But those less fortunate don’t have that option. Even those on food stamps sometimes do without because food stamps do not cover most cleaning and personal care items.

Lynn Hafer, a social programs specialist for the Instructive Visiting Nurse Association and a master’s student in VCU’s School of Social Work, visits low-income, sick and elderly clients to assess their needs. Many of her clients live on about $750 a month and receive food stamps.

“If you are making $700 to $750 a month — whether you are disabled, in a wheelchair or 90 years old — you are likely to be getting $10 to $15 a month in food stamps,” Hafer said. “I think people have the idea that people are getting hundreds of dollars monthly in food stamps and that just not the case.

“We were seeing that our clients are often having to make the choice whether to buy food or buy medicine, so light bulbs aren’t even in the picture. Shampoo isn’t in the picture. A new mop isn’t even in the picture.”

Working with INVA, a home health-care provider, Hafer started a program called Care Cupboard to help the elderly stretch their budgets.

“We as visiting nurses . . .go into people’s houses,” she said. “And their houses are filthy and not necessarily because they are lazy, but because they don’t have the two or three dollars to go out and buy a thing of Mr. Clean.”

The Care Cupboard program provides specialized packages for elderly clients after an INVA staff member talks with them to determine their specific needs.

Rosa Kessler, an 86-year-old recipient of a care package, said the package she received helped her a lot.

“I was able to get all the things that I need,” Kessler said. “I got tissues, shampoo and mouthwash. I am almost ready for another one, but this has lasted.”

Hafer said the clients select items from a prepared list but special requests also can be granted.

“We had one lady who had arthritis,” she said. “She couldn’t use the manual can opener and we got an electric can opener.”

Rebecca Alexander, health-watch coordinator for INVA, said it’s simply Hafer’s helping nature to find ways to provide for clients.

“She is nice and genuinely cares for clients that we serve,” Alexander said. “She will do anything to help them. She finds resources and answers to help them or refers them to someone that can.”

Kessler said Hafer even helped her handle her hospital bills and established a system so she can pay the other bills on a monthly basis.

“She is the best of all the workers I have ever had,” she said. “I had been trying to get a pair of glasses for three or four months, and it took Lynn only a week to get them for me.

“She is like a friend you have known forever. She comes in and talks to you like she has always known you. She takes her time and really seems to care.”

By the end of 2002, Hafer, who concentrated on advertising for her VCU bachelor’s degree, said she had helped more than 35 people and now has expanded the program:

“My goal is to distribute 200 packages (in 2003). As far as fund raising, we are going to be soliciting area merchants and corporations for donations.”

Another brainchild of Hafer, tentatively called “Adopt a Grandparent,” involves college students donating items to the cupboard.

For this program, which complements the packaged idea, fraternities and student organizations can be matched with the needy senior citizens to sponsor a Care Cupboard package.

“Depending on the client and the organization, they can expand that relationship to include visits or to helping them around the house . . . depending on the relationship they decide between the two,” said Hafer, who edited HARD TIMES, the Richmond newspaper for the homeless, for two years.

Alexander, who delivered some of the packages during home visits, said she loves seeing the people who have been helped by the packages.

“It is very fulfilling to watch them with something they would have gone without,” she said. “It is a mixed reaction, but they seem grateful.”

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