New Bedford Volunteer Extends a Hand to Others
The first time New Bedford resident Jo-Ann Lessa received assistance from The Salvation Army was more than 20 years ago. She was raising her three daughters and son at the time. While she’d worked at the YWCA and was busy she raising her kids, she and her husband still needed extra assistance, especially at Thanksgiving and Christmas. And, during the hot summers, their girls benefited from The Salvation Army’s summer camp program.
Fast forward to March 2020. Jo-Ann Lessa was already waiting for a kidney transplant when she was diagnosed with COVID-19. When she lost her sense of taste and smell suddenly, it was evident something was wrong. Overnight her family once again found themselves relying on the support of The Salvation Army in New Bedford. Because Lessa and her husband, a former New Bedford Police Officer, are on disability, they live with their daughter Sarah and their four grandchildren.
“We couldn’t leave the house to get groceries after learning about my diagnosis,” Lessa said. “I was in insolation with my husband downstairs while Sarah and the kids were quarantined upstairs.”
At the age of 56, Jo-Ann suffers from several health issues and is planning to have transplant surgery this Fall. Earlier this year, the family was hopeful after learning that Sarah is a perfect match. They are hoping that everything will continue as planned.
“It’s hard to have a big family and be isolated like we were,” Lessa explained. “We were so thankful that Major Michael Jung at the New Bedford Corps made sure that we received a Salvation Army food box with enough meals for a few weeks – frozen whole chickens, potatoes, carrots, bread, milk, eggs, canned goods, and some sweets! It got us through.”
For families like the Lessas, they realize the struggles that many families in New Bedford and throughout the nation are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Families are struggling financially, food insecurity is on the rise, and transportation to and from food banks is often difficult or non-existent.
“We can always extend a hand to help others. We were so grateful for the support we received in our greatest time of need. Together we wanted to be able to assist others in our community. Once I knew I was well enough, we needed to give back.”
By April, Jo-Ann Lessa and her husband were out of quarantine. Today, they are volunteering for The Salvation Army in New Bedford several times a week, helping deliver meals to individuals and families in need. And they’ve gotten more out of it than they ever imagined. One day when they were at The Salvation Army Corps, they met a mother with a baby on her front and another on her back.
“Even though there was a language barrier, we were able to translate that this mother was trying to call for a cab because she couldn’t get the food box home. She had nothing. My husband insisted that we give them a ride home. Weeks later, we are now helping this woman and her neighbors. My daughter has put baby stuff and additional food together for this woman’s struggling family. We’ve developed a bond.”
Because schools are running remotely, the Lessas have used this time to also have their granddaughter and other families join them in giving back. It has been rewarding for them to help after being helped.
“People don’t go to The Salvation Army enough for assistance throughout the year. They are there to help every day. People need to know their doors are open year-round if you need assistance,” Lessa said. “So many people need food assistance right now and one of the nicest things we can do is to ensure others have food.”