By Philip Gonzalez
In June of 1996, two people who never intended to marry again met at a church in Tyler, TX. After just 24 hours they were engaged and by December they were married. Johnny and Donna have been together for almost 26 years now and know they are forever partners. Just sitting down for a chat with this happy couple, you’d never know the hardships they have endured throughout their lives.
Johnny and Donna were raised in different parts of the country and in very different family environments. Johnny grew up in a small town in New Mexico. His parents worked on a farm and as a child he experienced the difficulties of farm life. He remembers waking up at odd hours to help his dad irrigate the fields, moving long aluminum tubes so that the water would spread evenly among the crops. He also had to pick cotton in the hot summer sun, which was back-breaking work. Despite the hard work, Johnny says that life was simple on the farm and remembers how members of the community would often barter for food. If his family ran out of milk, for example, his mom would tell him to jump on his bike and ride over to the neighbor’s dairy farm a mile away and trade fresh eggs for a couple gallons of milk.
Donna was born in Norway to a military family and moved to Connecticut as a young child. Throughout her life, she has lived in 49 of the 50 United States. She attended various boarding schools as a child and at the age of 13 made her first move to south Texas to attend school. That same year, she was a passenger on a plane that was hijacked by a Cuban Nationalist. It was a scary experience, but Donna survived the hijacking unharmed.
Years later, Donna served in the Women Army Corps during the Vietnam war. However, she was exposed to Agent Orange, a toxic chemical used over the jungles of Vietnam, and has suffered a series of health issues associated with her exposure during the war. She left the Army Corps after she married her first husband. Sadly, he was killed in action while she was pregnant with their second child, leaving her to raise two children alone with little income.
Johnny drove a truck for 30 years and together, he and Donna operated several storage facilities in Montana and Texas. After several major surgeries, he could no lo
nger drive a big rig. Over the years, Johnny experienced agonizing knee pain that made it extremely difficult to walk. In early 2020, he was slated for knee replacement surgery, but just days before his scheduled surgery their employer had to lay them off from their jobs. Despite losing his insurance, Johnny went ahead with the surgery. This put them in a terrible financial strain. Living off a combined income of just $1,300 a month, there wasn’t much room for major expenses.
Shortly after Johnny’s surgery in 2020, the world was plunged into the global COVID pandemic. It was during this time they started receiving services from Meals On Wheels. Through the Supplemental Nutrition plan, we provide the couple with a weekly delivery of frozen meals and a 10-lb bag of fresh produce.
Donna is unable to get the COVID vaccine because of lingering health issues related to the Agent Orange exposure and several medication allergies. In February and April of 2021, Donna and Johnny both caught COVID. Meals On Wheels provided them both with weekly supplies of Ensure, which Donna credits to their ability to recover from the virus. Without the weekly frozen meals and Ensure supplements, Donna and Johnny believe they would not have made it through the illness or the dark days of the pandemic.
Donna and Johnny have two dogs that they adore. Through our independently-funded Companion Pet Meals program, we assist them with pet food for their beloved dogs. A grant through Meals On Wheels America allows us to provide preventative veterinary care to select clients’ pets. Donna and Johnny’s dogs, Pixie and Grace, both qualified and will begin to receive needed care that has been put on hold due to pandemic-related expenses.
The services Donna and Johnny receive from Meals On Wheels are similar to what many of our clients receive each day. Without your generous contributions, clients like them would continue to receive little or no care. We are grateful for your support, which enables us to help thousands of clients across Tarrant County. You never know when you or someone you love will need one of the many services we provide. If and when that time comes, we are here to help. As we often say, together we are making Tarrant County a caring place to grow old, and we couldn’t do it without you by our side.