Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Dnepropetrovsk Supermarket Food Card Program

Dnepropetrovsk Hesed Menachem was the first Hesed in the former Soviet Union that launched the Food Card Program in 2006. The main goal of the Food Card Program is to offer the greatest degree of independence, choice and dignity to elderly Hesed welfare clients. Supermarket cards can be used by clients to purchase food at stores throughout the city where they live.

We go shopping with Leonid (shopping for Hasiya). He has 120 clients and supervises 25 case workers. He’s been working for Hesed for 15 years. Before that (like a lot of Hesed professionals) he was a physics engineer working in the local mining industries. He has a list of what she needs, and keeps the receipts together in a book (he has to, because she gives him her pin code for the card, and he needs to track everything according to Hesed rules).

Visit elderly Hesed Client – Hasya Gitman

Hasya Gitman was born in 1925 to a religious family in the Yiddish-speaking shtetl of Zvenigorodka in Ukraine. When she was six years old, famine broke out in the country – thousands of people were dying from hunger. Hasya’s family decided to move to the large city of Dnepropetrovsk, where they believed they had a chance of surviving.

Fearful that 6-year old Hasya might not endure the long travel and starvation, her parents decided to temporarily leave her at the state orphanage where at least some scanty meals were given to children every day. Some of Hasya’s most vivid memories to this day come from her time spent there.

When WW2 broke out, one of Hasya’s brothers, Grisha, went to fight on the front lines and never came back. The other brother, Abraham, fought and was badly wounded, dying soon afterwards. Hasya’s father managed to evacuate the family to Central Asia, but did not have time to evacuate himself. He was shot by the Nazis in front of the house where they lived. While living in Central Asia, Hasya worked day and night making ammunition for the war. 

Hasya and her mother came back to Dnepropetrovsk in 1944, immediately after its liberation from the Nazis. Having had no education, except for a few years of Jewish schooling, Hasya continued working in factories all her working days. She married a Jewish man who died a few years later of a serious illness and their son, born mentally retarded, tragically committed suicide at the age of 21.

“I have nothing good to remember,” Hasya – who lives alone in her tiny room, which she has not left for several years now – often says. Hesed welfare has stepped in to offer her the attention and support that she needs.

Medical problems: aside from being almost completely homebound, Hasya suffers from severe joint problems and incontinence.

Monthly pension: 910UAH = $112 state pension
Assistance received from Hesed Menachem Welfare Center:
  • Food card supermarket program – home delivery
  • Homecare
  • Medicines and hygiene materials
  • Medical rehabilitation equipment
  • Winter relief
  • SOS: heater, TV set, refrigerator
Leonid has know Hasya “for many years.” She says he is her lifeline. She's not his neediest client, he has harder cases. But she is definitely one of his loneliest and poorest. He sees her twice a month and speaks with her on the phone the other week. There's a homecare worker, Luda, who comes five days a week for five hours a day.

Hasya lives on the Left Bank of the Dnieper (less nice); it’s at least 45 minutes drive from Hesed. Leonid and the caseworker live near her.

I don’t receive visitors every day; I don’t feel so good. (In photo: Amy Mendel, came to see her, pretty, she says, I remember her – there were nice students from Boston who came to visit). In the photos: her son, her husband and her. She was 21. Yes, it’s difficult to believe but here I was. What makes me happy? When there are no problems and nothing disturbs me. It’s difficult for me to be healthy. Life is difficult. It’s hot here in the summer.

She's worried because we’re not sitting. Leonid is in the other room replacing a light bulb. New York? I don’t know where that is. Israel? Yes, I try to listen to the news about Israel on the television – I got the television from Hesed. Here is Ludichka (Luda) – case worker. She loves Luda. On Fridays Luda prepares everything for her for the weekend. I have one cousin left, 90 years old, in Germany. She calls once a year to check in and talk. She's in a nursing home. There's no other family.

The calendar on the wall is from 2001.

There is a state social worker who comes maybe once a month to see her – knocks on the door, says hello, and leaves. Better that she not come. They have to come.

I’ve survived through so much. My husband died, my son died. I've lived through so many difficult things. My second husband suffered from epileptic fits. I was unhappy in my life. That was what God decided would be my destiny. I’m 89 years old. How do I spend my day? It’s getting harder for me to walk around the apartment now. They brought me walking sticks – that’s very helpful. I used to read a lot, I loved reading. My husband couldn’t read, he was angry with me for reading all the time. Now I can't read anymore and that makes me sad. I love books. I get headaches.

This heat is like the summers of 1939 and 1940, I remember, before the war. The harvest was really bad and we received a low ration. I loved to read books about nature and animals. My apartment was filled with books. Now sometimes I watch television shows about animals and nature, and that makes me feel good. This morning there was a movie on television about a dog (Chekhov story) – I really enjoyed it.

She has a huge stack of medicines she needs to take every day. There’s a large stack of adult diapers under the table for nights and weekends.

We’re on the ground floor but she doesn’t usually open the window. One of the neighbors is an alcoholic and thief, she needs to keep things locked. There’s a bad smell from outside too. The window is cracked heavily.
She smiles, it’s nice that you came. 

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