Beds. Chairs. Dressers. A dining room table.
Furnishings taken for granted – and all missing from Bernice Montanez’s new apartment.
So are winter coats, gloves and snow boots, let alone laptops that are all but a dream.
Montanez, 35, moved with her sons, Rakhim, 18, and Zaindre, 15, a couple of weeks ago into an affordable-rate apartment on the West Side recently rehabilitated by PUSH Buffalo. It’s giving them a chance to start over after bouncing around to different family members since July, when Montanez could no longer afford her previous apartment.
Montanez’s life has changed dramatically since she awoke from a six-month coma five years ago after being struck by a car.
She suffered a traumatic brain injury. Her right side sometimes shakes uncontrollably. And though she was told she may never walk again, she has learned to do so by walking on her toes, but with a wobbly balance that last week caused her to fall, resulting in a swollen leg.
She’s also in constant pain, while resisting pain medication.
Montanez’s injuries have made it difficult for her to land work – at the time of the accident, she worked as a bill collector and home health aide – or afford things she and her children need, as well as Christmas gifts.
With only a love seat and TV set in the virtually empty home as the holidays approach, the family has a desperate need for the basics. Rakhim usually stays with an aunt, because there he can sleep on a box spring.
“I’ve never been out of an apartment since I was 17 and living on my own. To rely on people and live in other people’s houses is very stressful,” Montanez said.
Her two daughters, Jakayla, 11, and Ky’asia, 9, live with their father and stay with her on the weekends.
“My boys both want their own laptops. I can’t afford them; I don’t even have a phone,” Montanez said.
The News Neediest Fund will help ease some of the pain for the Montanez family and hundreds of other families this holiday season, thanks to generous donations from across Western New York. Last year, the fund helped more than 12,000 families, including 14,000 children, in Erie and Niagara counties to enjoy the holidays.
“They need sneakers. They need clothes, coats,” Montanez said of her sons.
Montanez must make do with $800 a month in Social Security Disability, plus $400 a month in food stamps that resumed this week, now that she has a permanent address. She also works at Goodwill, but the piecework pays her less than minimum wage, she said.
Nor do the boys’ fathers help – one is incarcerated, while the other is not involved with the family, Montanez said.
Saturday, before the food stamps began again, there was little more than peanut butter and jelly in the house.
“I have no food to cook meals,” she said.
Montanez has relied on her parents and sister. “Thank God for them,” she said.
But they struggle, too: Her sister has lupus and raises her seven children with their mother’s help. Montanez helps, too.
At home, she worries about her son getting a good night’s sleep for school when he has to sleep on the floor.
“He said to me, ‘Mom, my pride is almost gone.’ ”
Montanez hopes she can find a way to turn things around.
“I wasn’t fired by my job; I was just hit by a car. I would love to go back and [work full-time]. I was halfway through getting an associate’s degree in management,” said Montanez. “I’m trying to help myself so I can help others. If I can’t, I can’t help nobody.”
But this time of year is particularly hard, Montanez said.
“I haven’t been able to personally buy my daughters anything for Christmas for the past two years, and that really hurts. Then they come and ask me, ‘Well, Mommy, why do you give [our] brothers something, and I tell them, ‘They don’t have nothing.’ My girls, they don’t want for nothing. They need things, but their father’s a good dad.”
Her sons, she said, have much greater needs this year. So, too, does she, though she never brings that up.
The News Neediest Fund
How to apply for gifts:
Applications will be accepted until Dec. 8.
For applications, sites, hours of operation and eligibility requirements, call 211 WNY-Olmsted Center for Sight, by dialing 211 or (888) 696-9211, seven days a week, 24 hours a day.
• Cash donations to purchase 12,000 holiday dinners and other perishable items
• New, unwrapped toys for very young children
• New, unwrapped items for 8- to 12-year-olds, such as books, electronic games, board games, crafts, gift cards, cosmetics, athletic equipment
Where to give:
Drop-off sites for gifts include:
In Erie County:
• The Buffalo News lobby at Washington and Scott streets
• All Wegmans stores in Erie and Niagara counties (toys only)
• Hunt Real Estate Corp. WNY offices
• Dipson Theatres in Buffalo and Erie County
• Shea’s Performing Arts Center box office
• Toys for Tots donation barrels scattered throughout region
• Hamburg Fairgrounds Festival of Lights
In Niagara County:
• Tops in Lewiston
• Edward Jones in Lewiston
• Wegmans on Military Road, Niagara Falls
• Nike in the Fashion Outlet Mall, Niagara Falls
• Cornerstone Credit Union, two locations in Lockport, one in Middleport and one in North Tonawanda
• Tin Pan Alley, Lewiston
• General Motors Components Handling, Lockport
For a complete list of locations and times, go to buffalonews.com/newsneediest
• Cash donations may be mailed to: The News Neediest Fund, P.O. Box 2667, Buffalo, NY 14240-9873 or donate at buffalonews.com/newsneediest
Who are the participating organizations:
The Western New York Holiday Partnership is a collaboration between The Buffalo News Neediest Fund, the United Way of Buffalo & Erie County and Greater Niagara, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Northtowns, 211 WNY-Olmsted Center for Sight, F.A.T.H.E.R.S., Hamburg Youth Bureau, Ladies of Charity, Lancaster Youth Bureau, New Creation Fellowship, Niagara County Partnership, Response to Love Center, the Salvation Army, the USMC Toys for Tots, the Service Collaborative of WNY, Community Action Organization of Erie County, Expressway Assembly of God, Fellowship Hill Ministries, Olivencia Community Center, Resurrection Lutheran Church Food Pantry, True Bethel Charities and PUSH.