Bon Voisin Fund: the family needs help to start over

Roy French says he doesn’t want anything special for Christmas. “I’d be happy with a Christmas card with our name on it,” he says in a way that makes you think he really means it.

It’s a simple request for someone who has endured so much: the sudden death of his beloved wife, Melissa Santos, in 2017; lose their apartment in Aiea; and more recently, the amputation of his right leg, leaving him unemployed and trying to support three children with his disability income.

The family was doing well just four years ago. But Santos, who suffered from several heart problems, sometimes did not take all of his medications, despite pressure from French.

A cardiologist had recommended a new procedure and everything seemed to be fine until the night he was at work and Santos was not answering his calls or texts. As he drove home from work the next morning, the children called to tell him that she hadn’t got up to make breakfast, and they found her unresponsive and cold. French returned home as the ambulance arrived.

There was nothing to do.

Santos was 37 when she died. Social worker for Goodwill Industries, she tried to find jobs for people in need. “Everyone she met, that she touched, thought she was special,” French said.

The family was able to stay in their apartment without rent for a few months, thanks to their kind landlady who brought them food and clothes. But after the death of her own husband, she decided to sell the property and move to the mainland, and French had to move to her brother’s house in Waianae. The family stays in a closed veranda, comfortable but crowded.

French, a powerful-looking but soft-spoken man who played high school football, did well in his loss prevention job at Walmart, where he had worked since 2012.

In May, French was at his brother’s house when he decided to buy groceries from his car parked on the street. Barefoot, he crossed the scorching sidewalk, then headed for the house. A few minutes later, he saw that the ground under his right foot was wet. French said a “giant” blister formed on the sole of his foot and burst.

“It was a matter of seconds,” he said. “That’s how hot it was.”

Within days, her foot was swollen and sore. French began to receive antibiotics intravenously, but the infection quickly spread to the bone and threatened to progress to his leg. In September, her leg was amputated below the knee.

French now uses a wheelchair, and while he will likely get a prosthetic leg, he likely won’t be able to return to his old position as it requires walking and sometimes chasing shoplifters. Although Walmart is looking for other jobs for it, the French cannot drive to work yet.

He would need either a car with manual controls or an adapted car with left foot pedals.

“You don’t have the motor skills (to learn to drive an ordinary vehicle). I’m not ambitious at the foot, ”said French, still in a good mood despite his difficulties.

He could use an electric scooter and some clothes – Hawaii’s Finest is his favorite brand – but most of all he wants a good Christmas for his three children. The two youngest, Chase, 12, and Matthias, 6, are interested in video games and use the Roblox gaming platform. Chase would also like a tablet or an iPad, and Matthias would like a bike.

Her daughter Erin, 16, a sophomore student at Waianae High School, is hoping to become a mechanic – she helps her boyfriend work on his truck – and would like a gift card to a barber shop.

She would also very much like hula lessons. Erin was dancing in church but couldn’t find a teacher in Waianae. When asked what she likes about the hula, the teenager smiles and laughs. “Everything,” she said.

Eventually, French hopes to find a new place for his family. For now, he’s doing his best to stay strong for his children. He is an optimist by nature.

“I’m one of those half-full glass types,” he said.

The annual Good Neighbor Fund, a charitable partnership between Helping Hands Hawaii, Honolulu Star-Advertiser and First Hawaiian Bank, helps individuals and families in difficulty during the holiday season. This year, through the Adopt-a-Family program, more than 500 families are asking for help with food, clothing, toys and household items. Donations to the Good Neighbor Fund also help Helping Hands cover the operational costs of the nonprofit organization’s Community Clearinghouse program, which helps people with basic needs throughout the year.

Individuals can deposit cash or checks into the Good Neighbor Fund at any First Hawaiian Bank branch statewide until December 31st.

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