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Reporting Aside: She found a home for her children in Etna, but struggles remain and winter awaits


Kathy Cooper is shown earlier this month outside her St. Albans home with her children, from left, Zachariah, 2, Malakai, 14, and Eva, 4. She also has a 12-year-old son, Gabriel. The family was evicted from the home by a landlord looking to sell it to a family member. Cooper found another home in Etna but the rent is twice as much and is in need of work. Amy Calder/Morning Sentinel file

Kathy Cooper still has hope.

She hopes the home she found to rent for her family will be fixed as the landlord said it would, with leaks in the roof patched and his belongings removed as promised.

She also hopes that the pellet stove works.

“I don’t know if it’s hooked up properly so I haven’t used it yet,” she said.

The log cabin house she is moving into on Abbott Lane in Etna is nice enough; it just still needs a lot of cleaning and Cooper and her mother have been scrubbing it inside for a week. There was no kerosene in the tank for the furnace and no propane for the stove top so she had to order some. Everything costs so much money.

Further, there is no refrigerator in the kitchen. This is the first time she has rented a place that had no fridge. Her best hope is that someone has one they don’t need and is willing to donate it. She also doesn’t have a kitchen table big enough to seat her and her four children, ages 2 to 14, or any living room furniture.

The new place isn’t perfect but she’s trying to fix it up, and has been moving things, little by little, with her car. It’s the only rent she could find that she could barely afford, at $1,500 a month. Heat and electricity aren’t included.

I wrote about Cooper and her plight in a column published Sept. 3. She was being evicted from the St. Albans house she has rented for $875 a month for the last four years because her landlord’s son wanted to buy it. She scrambled to find another place she could afford, but the prices were higher than anything she had ever paid.

A single parent, Cooper works 40 hours a week at Sebasticook Valley Credit Union in Newport, earns $2,500 a month, gross, and is always in fear of being homeless. She gets MaineCare, plenty of food stamps and rental assistant from Kennebec Valley Community Action Program, but still has a tough time making ends meet.

To make matters worse, she and her two oldest children, 12 and 14, tested positive for COVID-19 recently and she will have missed two weeks of work by the time she returns, hopefully Monday. Some of her fellow employees at the credit union were going to help her move mattresses and some of the bigger stuff this weekend, but that likely won’t happen now because of the COVID diagnosis.

“It’s just like a whole mess and I’m trying to see the positive, and I’m trying to remain positive, but it’s been more of a challenge every day,” she said.

I spoke with Cooper on the phone Tuesday and could detect in her voice a sense of weariness in her usually stoic demeanor.

Through the hard times, there has been some light. After the column about her was published, an older man with white hair and a full, white beard came to her house and gave her fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, onions and corn.

“Vegetables and a whole big bag of corn,” Cooper recalled. “They were wicked good. My kids were super excited when they got that. We had hamburgers and corn on the cob that night. Eva, my 4-year-old, said, ‘Mama, that looked like Santa.’ ”

A week later, a basket of vegetables was left at the end of the driveway and then a handful of pumpkins.

“Eva’s constantly wanting to carve them,” she said.

A woman sent her a note, telling her she was there for her if she ever needed to talk.

People have been kind which has helped during a rough time. I asked Cooper how she stays on course.

“Trust me, there’s many times that I lay in bed after all the kids are in, I break down and tell myself I can’t do this anymore,” she said. “But at the end of the day, I have kids and I have to wake up and take care of them because if I don’t, my kids won’t have anyone. I have to keep pushing on, no matter how hard this is going to get.”

She takes it a day at a time.

“My main priority,” she said, “is to get through the winter.”

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 34 years. Her columns appear here Saturdays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.


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