By CHRISTOPHER ORLET
Donna Humphrey is not too proud to accept help.
“I’ve been the one who helps people my whole life,” the 67-year-old McClure resident says. “I’ve always been independent. But I am not afraid to ask for a hand up.”
Helping people is what got Donna in her latest predicament.
While trying to stop a co-worker from falling, Donna fell and broke her femur.
Before the accident she worked for 15 years at Olive Garden in Cape Girardeau, Mo., training new employees. Even when large parts of McClure and Alexander County flooded last year she found a way to get into work.
“Usually it was an 11-mile drive to work,” she says. “But Route 3 was closed for months so I had to drive to Anna-Jonesboro, then to Sikeston, Mo., then up to Cape. That’s an 108-mile commute instead of 11. It took two and a half hours. I spent most of my salary on gas.”
Between the flooding, which rose to three feet around her house, and her broken femur, things were looking bleak for Donna.
Donna doesn’t have any family in the Midwest, so she has had to rely on the kindness of neighbors and the Catholic church.
“Neighbors helped with the sandbagging so we saved most of my house,” she says, “but without my salary I couldn’t always pay the water and gas bills or buy food. Not that I could have got out to buy food if I had the money.”
Donna could pick up the telephone, however. And one of the first persons she called was Sherry Miller, director of Daystar Community Programs in Cairo, an organization of the Diocese of Belleville. Daystar is funded in part by the Diocese of Belleville’s Catholic Service and Ministry Appeal.
“If it hadn’t been for Sherry and Daystar I don’t know what I would have done,” Donna says. “FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) hasn’t done anything for anyone around here. I’m not real happy with the government right now if you want to know the truth.”
Donna, who grew up outside of Mound City, says last year’s flooding was the worst she’s experienced in her 10 years living in McClure.
“I’ve been a hillbilly most of my life, living on high ground,” she says. “I’m not used to flooding.”
Right now, Daystar runs the only food pantry remaining in Alexander County, which ranks as Illinois’ poorest county. According to Miller, Daystar serves eight counties in southern Illinois, including many of the poorest counties. Besides providing food, the agency helps with rental assistance, transportation, medication and utilities assistance.
Miller says Daystar has always been there to help Donna.
“I’ll take the help,” Donna says. “When you are broke it’s hard to drive to Cairo. So I’ll call Sherry and I’ll say, ‘I need some food, please!’ Daystar has been a Godsend. I am so grateful. I tell everyone, they are someone you can always call and ask for help, and they will.”
Donna says she plans to defend her home until the bitter end, sandbagging and running water pumps. “There are people who will break into your house and take everything you have if you leave,” she says.
Miller says there were times when the floodwaters prevented her from getting to Donna’s home. Then she would drop off food and cleaning supplies at a nearby ministry, which has larger vehicles to make the deliveries.
Next summer Miller says Daystar and high school and college volunteers plan to return to Donna’s home to help clean up the property when the flood waters recede.