Near the end of their rope, women seek assistance from Glen Ellyn charity
Kathleen Goscinski was diagnosed in 2017 with fibromyalgia and in 2018 with bone and brain cancer.
Her doctors declared Goscinski unable to work — she’d collapse and drop things — and advised her to apply for disability assistance.
But Goscinski was denied relief, she said.
“It’s to the point where I’m in a real hard situation,” said Goscinski, who is working with a lawyer to appeal the Social Security Administration’s decision.
On top of Goscinski’s monthly rent of $1,000 for her Carol Stream apartment, plus late fees, Goscinski owes payments for her phone, car insurance and utilities. Without work, it’s a situation that threatens to further spiral.
Tammy Rush of Addison is in a little better position, in a manner of speaking.
Currently in remission following surgery and chemotherapy treatments for Stage 3 ovarian cancer, the former Pace bus driver has been cleared to return to work in February.
Historically prompt in her payments until her health concerns intervened, she owes $4,000 in back rent and counting.
Working behind the scenes, chipping away at their debt and living expenses, Chana Bernstein is somewhat at a loss.
She’s the founder of the Saret Charitable Fund in Glen Ellyn, which helps people achieve food and housing security.
“We always relied on people and friends to support us and were able to do quite a lot. But since COVID, it’s been downhill,” said Bernstein, who was 33 when she incorporated the 501(c)(3) charity that covers DuPage, Kane and Will counties in 1985.
Bernstein’s impetus to start Saret was supporting single mothers with no job training or income, following the death of a Wheaton toddler from a poor family with no safety net. The charity expanded its mission to funding people with disabilities in 2005.
“We really need to get supporters to help us build this fund,” Bernstein said.
Saret helps about 20 people and families a month, on average, and provides funds depending on the severity of their situations. The group’s story, as well as information on how to support its mission, is available at saret.org.
Saret is seeking funds to help Goscinski, Rush, and many others cover rent, utilities, groceries, and auto insurance.
“I’m hoping they’re going to be able to help me, and I would like to see that other lady helped. I can’t imagine what she’s going through,” Rush said of Goscinski.
Bernstein helps when she’s able, sometimes turning yesterday’s donated checks into today’s cash assistance for desperate people.
She said Saret donated $300 to Goscinski in December, provided $100 to each woman for the holidays, and paid for gas for their cars and phone bills.
Rush said she is fortunate to have a sympathetic landlord.
“My landlord has been working with me because he understands my cancer situation. But he's worried that there’s no help out there for me,” said Rush, who also has bouts of neuropathy in her hands and feet as a result of the chemotherapy.
In addition to the help from Saret, Rush got groceries from the People’s Resource Center in Wheaton. With her cancer in remission and her ability to return to work soon, she is optimistic. But that growing debt will be hard to overcome.
Saret paid between $5,000 and $6,000 in hotel fees for other families over the past year, Bernstein said, including a mother with twin children.
“I had to literally call every friend to help me and donate to us just for that motel situation because it was winter and we didn't want anyone dying,” Bernstein said.
Bernstein fields requests all the time, unannounced and urgent. While attempting to help Goscinski and Rush, she added Elmhurst’s Kirsten Schütz to Saret’s disability fund.
A double amputee, Schütz had a brokerage business and was the sole caregiver to her father, a blind Army veteran, until he died in June 2022.
Because of Schütz’s severe, lingering problems due to the osteomyelitis that took her lower legs, she was hospitalized for 72 days from last June to December for a variety of issues, Bernstein said.
Though she has assistance from Medicaid and the SNAP food assistance program, Schütz owed thousands of dollars on her home loan and other bills.
Bernstein, known to dip into her own pocket to help people, is hoping to gain additional funding for Saret through a grant writer she has contracted.
“We want our charity to be able to reach out to the public and educate them on the problems that we are trying to solve that are not being solved by other entities,” Bernstein said. “Now, we are going for grants. We always relied on people.”