Marchelle Minerve’s unemployment benefits ran out the same year Superstorm Sandy flooded the three-bedroom apartment she was renting on Beach 29th Street and Seagirt Avenue in Far Rockaway. The hurricane washed away everything: her clothes, her furniture and her electronic appliances. Most importantly, it destroyed the welcoming place she had built over the years for her eight kids, their children and assorted friends.
“When you’ve worked your whole life and you’re over 60, you shouldn’t have to work two part-time jobs to make ends meet.”
– Marchelle Minverve, teacher
After Sandy, Minerve, a 61-year-old bubbly grandmother with a strong handshake, received $2,948 from the federal government in compensation for damages. “Thank you for the $2,948,” she says, but quickly adds. “It wasn’t enough; we lost our residence. I lost almost everything I had, but you know what? I still have my life.”
Perseverance and braveness pretty much sum up the last two years of Minerve’s life. To make ends meet, she now works two jobs; one of them all the way in the northern part of the Bronx, sleeps on a blow-up mattress at a friend’s house in Far Rockaway and she still doesn’t have enough money to make up for what she lost due to the storm.
Right after Sandy, she moved to Virginia where one of her daughters lives. She stayed with her for a year. Minerve needed to collect herself. With no more unemployment benefits and too young to claim her teacher’s pension, Minerve used the $2,948 to cover her day-to-day expenses.
By August 2013, she felt like she had gathered enough strength to come back to New York and start building back her life. She had to find a job and a place to live.
A passionate specialized, math and pre-kindergarten teacher for almost 30 years in both private and public schools, Minerve got a part-time job as an after-school teacher at Frederic Douglass Academy V Middle School in the Bronx.
There, every day from 2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., she shares her love of reading with a group of eight children. “I get a lot of joy out of it,” says Minerve, a fervent believer that education is the key to success. But, at $10 an hour, this job alone is not enough to cover all her expenses and Minerve quickly realized she had to find a second job just to be able to pay her bills.
A graduate of Richmond College, now the College of Staten Island, Minerve started teaching at age 32, after quitting a well-paid job with the city’s transit authority. “It was a good job, but it was a boring job, I didn’t have to use my brain,” Minerve says of her first job as a senior clerk at a bus depot on 54th street and 9th Avenue in Manhattan.“ I didn’t go to school to be the regular Joe Blow,” she laughs. “And I like to think that I’ve changed lives among some of the children I’ve seen on a regular basis.”
But no matter how much she loves her job, Minerve admits it also comes with some drawbacks. The grandmother has to commute for almost five hours (two-way trip) every day to reach the north Bronx from her Far Rockaway address. “Every day I feel like I travel to Delaware!” she says.
When she is not teaching, Minerve is busy with her second part-time job: a six-month part-time position where she relays information about college to foster parents. It pays her $10 per hour.
Working two jobs allows Minerve to earn about $1,100 per month after taxes (including $180 in food stamps). She is getting back on track, she says, but is still far from the pre-Sandy time where she would spend $1,500 just on the rent.
“To be honest with you I find it very hard. I’m always looking at the cost of things: the food, the laundry and then you have to pay your Internet bills,” she enumerates.
“Bottom line is: I still want to help others and interact, but I’m tired of struggling,” she says. “When you’ve worked your whole life and you’re over 60, you shouldn’t have to work two part-time jobs to make ends meet.”
Minerve is a fighter, and she says she will keep working as hard as she can until Sandy is completely behind her. For now, she sleeps at a friend’s Far Rockaway apartment every night since she got back to New York ten months ago, ia bitter reminder that her hardship is not over yet.
Every night, she blows up an air mattress that she sets up in the living room near a black leather sofa.
“You can handle this when you’re young you know but when you’re older, you’re bed is your bed,” Minerve says, “and for you to have to sleep at someone else’s place, it’s a whole other story.” But she quickly adds that she is very grateful to her friend for helping her out.
Her 21-year-old daughter, meanwhile, also found shelter at one of her friends’ places, a couple of blocks away.
“I never knew,” Minerve starts then stops, looking down and taking a deep breath. “ I never knew I would experience homelessness.”
She continues, her voice quavering, “Because even though I have a place to stay, it’s like being homeless. I have grandchildren, I want to be able to cook them food, I don’t want to invade someone else’s space and have to ask for permission every time I want my grandkids to come over.”
She sees a positive side to her situation: she only has to spend $200 a month for her rent, which allows her to save up to $200 monthly after paying $100 for internet and phone services, $70 for her MetroCard and approximately $400 for her food. She also occasionally helps members of her family that are in need.
If all goes well, she’ll be able to afford her own place in a few months. Minerve has recently been looking for a studio where she could move in with her youngest daughter.
“And at the end of this year I’ll turn 62,” she smiles, joining her hands together. “And that means I’ll be able to get my Social Security benefits as well as my teacher’s pension.” Even though she doesn’t know yet how much she will be getting, she says she believes the situation can only get better.
Her post-Sandy ordeal, she says, has deepened her faith in God and her respect for all people. “Because you never know where they are coming from,” she says, “and what they’ve been through.”