A Fountain Square family struggles to make ends meet Anthony Mullins sits on the pale blue rent-to-own couch and stitches stars. He’s starting a needlepoint American flag he hopes to sell some day for $6. Right now, 39-year-old Anthony is out of work. His wife, mother-in-law and teen-age stepson all draw disability or social security checks that add up to about $1,500 a month. But, with Anthony losing his job as a janitor at White Castle several weeks ago, times are tough for this Fountain Square family. So Anthony is hoping his handiwork — he also makes small custom clocks for $10 — will provide extra income and a way to pass the time while he waits for the phone to ring with a job offer. “I’ve got to make a little money somehow,” he says, concentrating as he counts out plastic squares to properly place the white stars. He’s puffing on a corncob pipe. After Anthony finishes “the hard part,” he hands the flag to his retired mother-in-law, Mary Morgan. Diabetic, asthmatic and just out of the hospital following a heart attack and stroke, Mary doesn’t enjoy the dexterity Anthony maintains in his meaty hands. So she fills in the stripes from her spot on a matching rent-to-own recliner covered in a bed sheet. Anthony’s wife, Rosemary, and stepson, Joshua, sometimes pitch in, too. Anthony taught them all how to do it. “It’s pretty easy,” he says. All told, each flag takes the family between 15 and 20 hours to finish. They plan to give one to a nephew as a high school graduation gift. Anthony’s other way of earning money isn’t as time consuming. Off and on for six years, he’s sold blood at the plasma center on East Washington Street, bringing in a tax-free $20 for the first “donation” of the week and $30 for the second. A big man, Anthony feels so drained after selling his blood that he doesn’t even want to do the needlepoint. “When you come out you feel like you run 400 or 500 laps,” he says. “You’re so tired that you don’t feel like doing anything.” “It all ends up costing about the same” With all of her health problems, Mary hadn’t worked her once-a-week job helping at an auto auction for three months. She went back last week, earning $40 for the day. Her daughter, Rosemary, can contribute only her disability check and the accompanying insurance for herself and son, Joshua. Anthony has no insurance. Rosemary sits next to Anthony on the couch and breathes through her asthma-treatment machine. Her high blood pressure, asthma and complications from an industrial ammonia spill while on the job at a Sunny Delight plant in Florida keep Rosemary, also 39, from leaving the house. She could die if exposed to perfumes or scented spray cleaners. “I’ve got poison in my system,” Rosemary says. “I cannot work. I want to. If my doctors would sign the papers, I’d go back to work tomorrow. I have the skills. I used to be a restaurant manager.” With Joshua medicated for asthma like his mother and grandmother, the family doles out $275 per month on co-pays for their pills. When Anthony was working, Wishard Hospital garnished $70 per paycheck for an old debt. “You get sick and have to worry about how you are going to pay for it,” Anthony says. “Sometimes you can’t. Then, when you do get a job, they come in and start taking it all. You work just to dish it all out.” With the family’s monthly income hovering around $1,500 plus $234 in food stamps, there’s not much margin for error. Their rent is $360 for an unadorned two-bedroom double. (Mary sleeps most nights in the recliner to help with her breathing.) The monthly payment on a high-mileage buy-here-pay-here Ford van is $250, the gas bill $150, Rent-A-Center payments for an electric stove $88, car insurance $79, lights $75, cable $40 and telephone $14. That adds up to nearly $1,100 — leaving little to put gas in the van, buy groceries and personal items not covered by food stamps (Mary’s diabetic diet items cost extra) and the occasional knickknack or lottery ticket. In especially dire straits lately, Mary had to hock the TV and computer she had paid off at Rent-A-Center, where she likely spent two to three times the retail value of both. Mary also bought the living room and bedroom furniture at the Rent-A-Center on Prospect Street — just across the street from another Rent-A-Center and another place called Hometown Rentals. She’s still paying on the electric range: $22 a week. This spring, she also bought a deep freeze there with the family’s tax refund. Mary says she shops at Rent-A-Center because it is in the neighborhood where she’s lived all of her life, she finds the sales people attentive and friendly and she likes the security of being able to pay to insure the items against theft or damage. She didn’t comparison-shop at Best Buy or H.H. Gregg or Sears. “Those places are too far out for me. I don’t like to drive that far,” she says, noting that Anthony and Rosemary don’t drive at all. “I’m happy with it. It all ends up costing about the same.” “From one day to the next” Nobody in the family drinks alcohol or uses illegal drugs. “We’ve got enough of the other kind of drugs around here,” Mary jokes. They smoke a variety of tobacco products — cigarettes, dime cigars, a pipe. They also have a dog, a full-blooded rat terrier named Lady, and a cockatiel bird named Poppy. Their pets and the TV are the family’s primary sources of entertainment. And, of course, they have each other — spending most hours of each day together in the house. “We don’t go to the movies or do any of that,” Mary says. “We don’t have the money. We play cards and watch the TV.” It’s a life lived day to day. But this is a family that smiles as they sit close to each other in their small living room, watching a movie on the small TV the pawnbroker didn’t get. “Most people don’t realize how hard it is to make it from one day to the next,” Rosemary says. “We do,” her husband says, looking up from his stitching. Mary knows the family wouldn’t make it without each other. None, besides Anthony, are healthy enough to live alone. “They need help and I need help,” she says. “We just pool together what little money we have and get by.” They have small plans, small dreams for escaping the downward spiral that makes the poor stay poor. Anthony is checking into places to sell the family’s needlepoint products. He knows of a weekend flea market south of Fountain Square where you can set up a table in the parking lot for $7. Now it’s just a matter of coming up with that extra cash. “It’s not going to be easy,” Anthony says. “You know,” Mary says, “sometimes $7 can seem like $7 million.”

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