Neighbors helping neighbors when illness strikes

"Photo: Deon Matzen, left, and Shirlee Read will work their culinary magic at the Mother's Day Brunch sponsored by Friends of Friends on May 14.Joan Soltys/staff photoMother's Day BrunchA Benefit for Friends of Friends medical support fundSunday, May 14, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Clinton Progressive Hall, Highway 525, across from Whidbey Island BankTickets: $10 adults and $5 for under 12, available at the doorFor information call 221-5105.MenuTwo quiche varietiesClassic Lorraine and Broccoli CheddarBacon, fresh muffins, rollsFresh fruit, juice, coffee, tea and milkMusicKathy Fox, pianistStilton String QuartetViolinist Talia MarcusFour-for- Fun recorder groupSpecial displayLabor of Love quilt made by the Piecemakers. Raffle tickets on sale at the brunch and following; drawing on Sept. 30 at the Bayview Farmer's MarketFriends of Friends Relief FundSet up to offer people on South Whidbey a financial hand with medical costs, the fund can help pay for doctors, dentists, laboratory tests, hospital and at-home care, screening exams (such as Pap tests or mammograms), ferry fares, remodeling needed for disability, and other bills related to health care. The help is given without red tape, and with caring and respect for those with the courage to ask for help at a critical time. The small fund is supported by events such as the upcoming Mother's Day Brunch and the Labor of Love quilt raffle, and by annual sponsors -- individuals, families or businesses on South Whidbey, who donate $100 a year to support the work. If you or a friend need help, or to inquire about Friends of Friends, write to them at P.O. Box 812, Langley WA. 98260; or call Lynn Willeford, 730-7915.The coordinating committee consists of Helen Bjerum, Martha Furey (sabbatical), Nancy Kennedy, Peggy Kimbell, Dorothy Saran, Debora Valis, Lynn Willeford and Patty Wilson.For almost four years now, there has been a quiet, low-key effort among South Whidbey's residents to help their neighbors with funds for medical or dental bills they cannot pay.It's called Friends of Friends, a small but growing relief fund that was started in 1997 by Martha Furey and Lynn Willeford and is registered as a charity with the State of Washington. FOF helps people on South Whidbey pay not just the doctor, dentist and hospital bills, but also prescriptions, ferry tickets, physician-requested supplements, even the occasional emergency payment of an insurance premium or a utility bill. It has helped one person build a ramp to make a home handicapped-accessible. Others have received money for child care during appointments, eyeglasses or hearing aids, pain-control training, physical therapy or even alternative treatments such as visits or medications from naturopaths, acupuncturists or Oriental herbalists whose services may be restricted by an HMO. Furey and Willeford started the fund by asking their friends to become sponsors, donating $100 a year. During that first year they raised $7,676 and helped 11 people. The program grew, and in the less than four years since it started, FOF has raised more than $28,000 to help pay the uncovered costs of illness. In just the first three months of 2000, the fund has raised $8,000 and has been able to help 24 of the 45 people who have requested assistance.While its major support comes from individuals, there are also special events such as this spring's Mother's Day Brunch, which is being held on March 14 at the Clinton Progressive Hall, and the Labor of Love raffle quilt which will be unveiled at the Mother's Day event.The cooks for the brunch are Shirlee Read, a noted Island caterer who now owns and runs a new cooking school called The Kitchen Door, offering gourmet culinary instruction weekends at Chinook's Thomas Berry Hall; and Deon Matzen, a painter as well as a cook, and author of The Artist's Palate, now in its second printing. Matzen, a breast cancer survivor, was also the first person helped by Friends of Friends.Those attending the brunch will taste a selection of fine foods, from fresh fruit and muffins to elegant quiche dishes. They will also get the first look at and can buy raffle tickets for the Labor of Love quilt, created by the Piecemakers quilting group. The quilt winner will be announced after a drawing in September.Bringing mom and family to the Mother's Day brunch will give her a treat -- delicious food that she didn't have to prepare and that follow-up bonus -- no cleanup duties, said Helen Bjerum, one of the coordinators. At the same time, you will befriend neighbors who struggle to pay uncovered expenses when illness strikes. The fund-raising goal for 2000 is $20,000, and other events are planned to help meet it, such as concerts, special sales, or poetry readings, along with the bulk of the support: the individual contributions of $100. We know $100 is a sacrifice for many, but that $8 a month from you means someone else will be able to pay for the gas to travel to chemotherapy treatments without having to raid their food budget, or get the medication he needs to be able to work, or make an appointment to have her first Pap test in a decade, Willeford said.Members of the FOF coordinating committee have also been learning how to be advocates and provide emotional or technical support for the people that are helped, so they can train others to be an advocate with bureaucratic agencies, or to untangle medical paperwork. We thank all the supporters, from our oldest to newest friends, for taking a gamble to create and sustain the program, Willeford said. Now, as we begin our fourth sponsorship drive, we have ample proof that our hare-brained idea not only works, but works well.In the words of some of those who have received help from Friends of Friends:Thank you for being there when needed as angels of mercy...It was difficult for me to believe that I deserved help, and it as there!Thank you, thank you. When no one else would help, you were there. God bless you all. It has made a difference...You truly are Friends of Friends."

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