Bebe Lundell’s trailer was unsafe to live in, but she could not afford to find a new home because the widow of eight years had been laid off and cares for three adult sons unable to live on their own.
Thanks to an Anoka County employee sharing the story and the Bridgewood Community Church community, the Blaine family is in a new fully-furnished trailer.
Lundell has trouble saying no to friends in need. Even when she was having trouble feeding her sons, she would take food to those she knew were hungrier than her family was.
But when Rev. Diane Stores from the Bridgewood Community Church in Blaine knocked on her door, she was reluctant to accept help even though her 46-year-old trailer had no natural gas hooked up for heating or cooking, there were only two working electrical outlets, support beams had snapped and there was mold.
Stores has seen poverty on mission trips, but the Lundell family’s living conditions shocked her.
“I had never seen a family living in that kind of condition in our own state,” said Stores, an associate pastor at Bridgewood. “I for many years have been praying for this community, believing there was something here that God wanted us to do. When I met Bebe, I knew this was it.”
Lundell needed gallbladder surgery and has had four heart attacks. Her arteries to her heart “are OK, but not great.” Her doctor has told her she needs to stop stressing herself out. She was laid off from Minnco Credit Union in 2011.
“Nobody seems to understand, it’s easy for you to sit there and say, don’t worry about the bills…worry about your health,” Lundell said. “I’ve got three kids. I have one that’s handicapped and two that have seizures. And now there’s my health.”
A widow struggles
Lundell’s husband Greg died in 2005 of a massive heart attack and double pneumonia. He was 11 days shy of his 53rd birthday.
She now had sole responsibility for caring for her sons Matthew, now 32, David, now 29, and Joshua, now 28.
Everyone is on medication in the Lundell household for some medical problem, she said.
Matthew has been diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. There are times when he will lash out at her if he does not get his way, Lundell said.
According to Lundell, If she gives into him, then his two brothers may become upset and he is unable to work without being supervised.
Lundell and sons David and Joshua, who are all currently unemployed, get paid by the government to care for Matthew.
Lundell receives a monthly Supplemental Security Income check from the U.S. Social Security Administration for having a child with a developmental disability. She recently got on a program to help her buy groceries, but it only covers a weeks worth of food for herself and her three grown sons.
“I have to scrape and save so I can keep us going until the end of the month,” she said.
According to Lundell, the trailer was constructed in 1967 in the Centennial Square Mobile Home Park in southeastern Blaine. Her family moved in 22 years ago.
Several years ago, the water and sewer lines were leaking, which caused the ground below the trailer to become unstable and a support beam broke. The walls started separating from the floor and a roof support beam came loose. Water was leaking in and causing black mold and heat was leaking out and driving up the natural gas bills. At one point, the natural gas bill for one quarterly period was over $1,000.
Rebecca Virden, spokesperson with CenterPoint Energy, said Lundell was behind by a number of years on payments and had a balance built up when her natural gas was shut off in August 2007.
There are different types of assistance programs out there in case someone is low income, a veteran or disabled, but Lundell did not respond to CenterPoint’s notification, Virden said.
CenterPoint is a publicly traded company and all customers and shareholders are impacted when the company does not collect delinquent payments, she said.
Lundell said she did not see the notifications that her gas would be turned off. She just saw the quarterly bills, but knew she was behind on payments. She tried to get the gas turned back on, but said it would have been about $600 cash to do this.
The water pipes froze in the winter and her hot water heater needed to be replaced, so Lundell took the last $4,000 out of her 401(k) to replace her water pipes and hot water heater in her old trailer.
“Now I have nothing to show for all the hard work I did,” said Lundell, who will be 60 years old in October.
Before working at Minnco, some of her previous occupations were a gas station attendant, a factory worker, a restaurant cook, waitress and cashier and manager of a restaurant at Woolworth’s in St. Paul.
The only appliances that worked were the refrigerator and microwave. If she wanted to cook meat or potatoes, she would hook up an extension cord to a portable stove top appliance.
Without her own vehicle and with few appliances hooked up, Lundell ordered a lot of takeout food.
She did not want to burden neighbors with taking her to the grocery store and she felt bad enough asking for rides to work, according to Lundell.
“I did what I could with what I had,” Lundell said. “I was spending more money trying to keep things together and it was a losing battle for me, but I didn’t give up.
“I had to make sure my kids had a roof over their head, had to make sure they had food.”
The only way to keep the trailer warm was with space heaters, but only three electrical outlets were working in the entire trailer. The others were burned out.
One church volunteer who is a master electrician was afraid for the family after inspecting the trailer.
“It makes me really sad when you really see the inefficiency of the county and the city to be able to help families like this,” Stores said. “It’s a travesty, I believe.”
Bridgewood gets involved
Although upset that the government as a whole could not do more, Lundell and Stores credited Pam Lambeau for looking for any possible program to help the family.
For the past seven years, Lambeau has been an Anoka County social worker who helps adults with developmental disabilities. She works with Lundell’s oldest son Matthew. She has helped Lundell find assistance programs for medical, food, energy and housing, for instance.
Until Lundell was laid off in 2011, she did not meet the low income thresholds for assistance in many programs, Lambeau said.
Even after Lundell lost her job, the trailer was beyond the help of any government program, according to Lambeau.
“It was a matter of finding new housing,” Lambeau said.
Overwhelmed by the situation and desperately wanting to help a nice family, Lambeau contacted local churches to see if anybody could help. Bridgewood Community Church answered the call to help.
The first thing Stores did after hearing the story was pack her vehicle full of food. While she did not like asking for help, Lundell appreciated having someone else to talk to.
“She took the time to listen and that’s more than I can say for the county or anybody else, outside of Pam,” Lundell said. “After all these years of keeping it inside, it’s a little burden off my shoulders.”
This first visit happened about three months ago. Lundell and the Bridgewood community prayed for help and it came. The Lundell family moved to a different trailer in the same mobile home park over a month ago and the entire cost of approximately $13,000 was covered.
Most of the funds came from two anonymous family donations, according to Stores.
Lambeau also worked with the Anoka County Community Action Program to have this program pay for demolition of the old trailer and Lundell received about $3,500. About $2,000 came from the church itself.
The woman who previously lived in the trailer was having trouble getting all her stuff out, so church volunteers helped her move as well. The new trailer still needed a lot of work. Water pipes were leaking and there was water damage in a bedroom floor and bathroom fixtures needed to be replaced.
Church members during one Sunday donated money to help pay for work that needed to contracted out. They donated and installed carpet in bedrooms, checked the electrical components, painted, brought curtains, donated a coach, rocking chair and bed. Lundell had slept on a mattress on her bedroom floor for about 12 years.
“It’s really become a community project,” Stores said. “Bebe and the boys are part of our family.”
To help the Lundell family, contact Bridgewood Community Church at 763-780-2500. The mailing address is 11670 Lexington Ave. NE, Blaine, MN 55449.
Eric Hagen is at firstname.lastname@example.org