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Gleaned goodies stretch the budget.

Byline: Susan Palmer The Register-Guard

You won't see LaKay and Ben Jay sitting around during their retirement wondering what to do with themselves.

"We love to work. As long as I work, I feel great. I cannot just sit on my bottom. Don't ask me to," said LaKay, 67, during a break from gleaning at a vegetable garden off River Road.

LaKay, who worked in laundries and sandwich shops, and her husband, Ben, 67, who retired from logging five years ago, are classic do-it-yourselfers, a trait they rely on as economic challenges put the squeeze on their budget.

The two remodeled their cozy home in north Eugene themselves. When they replaced the roof, it was LaKay holding the trusses while Ben nailed them in place.

When it came time to add a gas furnace and air conditioning to their home, it was Ben who did the installation, even down to the electrical wiring.

LaKay's four children by a previous marriage are grown and gone now, but even when she was a busy working mom, she kept a garden, canned her own produce and bought food staples in bulk.

A smart and thrifty shopper, she'd buy half a cow at a time and freeze the meat.

And Ben has the gear and the know-how to fix just about anything mechanical you can think of.

But time has taken a toll on their can-do abilities.

LaKay has diabetes, a hernia, an ulcer and a slight tremor of the hands. Ben is in remission from prostate cancer, and arthritis makes it hard for him to do the stooping, bending and kneeling involved in gleaning.

Sometimes when he's down among the lettuce or strawberries, LaKay has to help him get back on his feet.

Gathering food has become a stark necessity as the couple faces steadily higher bills - utilities, prescription drugs, health insurance - on a fixed income.

When LaKay opened the medical insurance bill three months ago and saw it had jumped from $115 to $248, she was stunned. It hit at a bad time, when other big bills - car and homeowners' insurance - also were coming due.

"I sat down and cried," she said.

The tough times show in their dwindling supply of staples - flour, sugar, shortening, rice, hotcake mix, oatmeal. At the start of 2000, they had close to two years' worth, but they haven't been able to replace that personal storehouse as they've used up the food.

Last November, the couple linked up with the Sunshine Harvesters when they were down to their last box of oatmeal, LaKay said.

"My union pension just about covers the health insurance and her medications," Ben said.

Their gleaning, combined with produce from their own meticulous garden, keeps food on their kitchen shelves. The two still do their own canning.

On a recent morning, LaKay ladled blanched green beans into pint jars destined for the pressure cooker - 20 minutes at 10 pounds of pressure. She's been canning so long, recipes are superfluous.

It didn't go as fast as it used to. LaKay had to steady one trembling hand with the other while ladling the beans and Ben had to lift the jars into the canner for her.

Before the morning was over, 10 pint jars of beans joined the ranks of canned blackberries, pear butter, applesauce, pickled beets, peaches, pears and even salmon on the Jays' kitchen shelves.

The couple will garden and glean as long as they're physically able, LaKay said.

It's as much a social pleasure as a necessity. The people they work with in the fields - some old pros, others young adults who don't always know what to do with 10 pounds of produce - have become friends.

"They are some of the nicest people. They're just down on their luck just like we got," she said.

HELP FOR SENIORS

Meals on Wheels: Volunteers deliver meals weekdays to home-bound seniors age 60 or older and those with disabilities who qualify. Suggested donation: $3.40. For more information, call the number in your area. Eugene: 682-4038 or 344-5244. Springfield: 682-3500. Coburg: 682-4038. Creswell and Cottage Grove: 682-7800. Oakridge: 782-4726. Veneta: 935-2262. Junction City: 998-8445. Florence: 997-8251.

Senior Meals Program: For seniors age 60 or older of any income. Meals are served at senior centers and other locations at 13 sites throughout Lane County. Suggested donation: $3.40. For site locations and other questions, call 682-4038. Outside Eugene-Springfield, (800) 441-4038.

Services Assisting Independent Living: FOOD for Lane County delivers perishable foods to four senior and disabled low-income housing sites.

Extra Helping: Those who live in low-income housing - including seniors - pick up perishable foods from FOOD for Lane County to distribute among residents.

Brown Bag: For $5 per quarter, elderly and disabled people living at Olive Plaza receive a newsletter and three bags of groceries delivered once a month.

Gleaners: Low-income residents harvest produce from farm fields and perishables from the food bank to share among themselves and others who can't glean. For more information, call Laurie Trieger at 343-2822.

HUNGER LEGISLATION

WIC farmer's market coupon expansion: Senate Bill 500 uses state money to match federal money for the Women, Infants and Children Nutrition program allowing mothers to buy fresh fruits and vegetables at farmer's markets. Passed by the Legislature. The governor is expected to sign it.

Senior farmer's market coupon expansion: Senate Bill 501 uses state money to administer a federal program giving seniors access to fresh fruits and vegetables at farmer's markets. Passed by the Legislature. The governor is expected to sign it.

CAPTION(S):

LaKay Jay holds aloft a squash she picked off River Road with her gleaning group. She and her husband, Ben, glean to eat. "We love to work. As long as I work, I feel great. I cannot just sit on my bottom. Don't ask me to." - LAKAY JAY, GLEANER
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:As health bills mount, one couple relies on a wealth of produce; Food
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Aug 30, 2003
Words:969
Previous Article:HELP FOR SENIORS.
Next Article:Letters in the Editor's Mailbag.


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