SURRY, Maine — A retired Maine Department of Transportation worker, 67-year-old Loren Snow of Surry said this week that he never expected to be struggling as hard as he is before he retired in 2006.
Snow said Wednesday that his gross retirement pay is slightly less than $2,000 a month but after the $1,196.90 premium for insuring his wife and daughter and $650.72 in income taxes are deducted, he is left with $126.10 to make the rest of the month.
Loren and his wife, Sandy Snow, were among the army of volunteers who turned up at the Solidarity Center in Brewer last week to help assemble 550 Thanksgiving meal baskets for families hit by job losses and other economic hardships.
As part of the annual Solidarity Harvest organized by the Eastern Maine Labor Council and Food AND Medicine, the Snows helped pack turkeys, stuffing, rolls and such produce as potatoes, carrots, beets, rutabagas and apple cider — much of it grown on Maine farms — into boxes sent out to struggling families throughout eastern and northern Maine.
The boxes even contained apple and pumpkin pies — made from scratch and baked at the Solidarity Center, located at 20 Ivers St.
“Everybody was busy doing something,” Sandy Snow said. “There were mass production areas everywhere. It was something to see, that so many people care about the little guys. These people were there all day. There was great camaraderie.”
When the time came to head out for the drive home last week, the Snows were both surprised and touched when they were handed a box to take back to their own home. The two became somewhat emotional talking about that in a phone interview Wednesday.
Snow said he worked hard all his life to provide for his wife, 58, and their seven children. The family, he said, grew most of its food. They had a large garden and raised chickens, pigs, turkeys and sheep. That, however, was when his health was better.
Now, both he and Sandy are dealing with serious heart conditions, Snow said. He also has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
The third person living in their home is their 31-year-old daughter Katherine, who was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at the age of 12 and now suffers debilitating pain, frequent operations, surgeries and monthly treatments.
Asked how they are managing to make ends meet, Loren Snow said simply, “We’re not. We’re falling behind. We have the heat turned down as low as we can keep it. We’ve closed off most of the house and are keeping one room warm.”
As was the case last winter, the family spends most of its time in the warm room, bundled in warm clothing and blankets, he said. Last year, the Snows received heating fuel assistance through LIHEAP. This year, the prospects look bad, he said, with major cuts to the federally funded program announced earlier this month.
“But it ain’t just me,” Snow said Wednesday. “There are a lot of retired state employees and retirees in general that are really suffering.”
Snow is among those who say the state has turned its back on its retirees.
“We served the people in good faith. We did our jobs. We worked for less pay than what we would have made in the private sector because they promised we’d have good retirement pay and [cost-of-living increases],” he said.
“It’s hard when you get up and you have to swallow your pride and ask for things. They’re letting us down and that hurts,” he said of the state.
Since his retirement, Snow has become more politically active. He remains involved in the Maine State Employees Union, participates in a phone bank for the local Democratic party and more recently signed on as a Food AND Medicine volunteer.
“I felt guilty that I wasn’t doing my part,” he said.
Snow said he has tried to find part-time work to help the family get by but noted that his age and the fact he is still learning computer skills makes the search difficult.
Snow said that among the things he is grateful for during this Thanksgiving holiday are the people of Food AND Medicine, who are working to improve the quality of life and access to jobs for Maine residents.
“I am thankful I live in the good ole USA,” he said. “I think this is a beautiful state and I think we need to think more about getting our jobs back here,” he said, criticizing company that move manufacturing operations to Third World countries where labor is cheap and workers have few if any rights.
Sandy Snow also said she has much to be thankful for.
“I’m just thankful to have my family around. We’re all still putting two feet on the ground and standing up and talking about our day,” Sandy Snow said.
She’s also grateful for life’s unexpected bounties, such as the 50 gallons of heating fuel someone anonymously arranged to have delivered to their home.
“We had no oil,” she said. “Sometimes when I think we’re not going to make it, something like this happens. We’ve been very lucky. I’m just blown away by people who do things like that.”