An elderly neighbor told Mary Farrar about Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton’s Fix It program. The neighbor had an overhead garage light that went out, and she couldn’t reach it to replace it. So she called Fix It, which sent a volunteer to replace it for free.
Then a funny thing happened that same day: Mary’s own garage light went out.
“When you’re older and you’re by yourself, you start doing different thinking. You find there are a lot of things you won’t do, because you think: ‘What if I fall? Who will help me? When will they find me?’” said Mary, 79, who lives in a Jackson retirement community.
So Mary called Fix It, a program based at Catholic Charities’ Community Services-Ocean that enlists volunteers to perform minor home repairs and chores in elderly Ocean County residents’ homes to ensure they can live safely and independently. Clients are asked to cover the cost of materials, but the program otherwise is free.
That was two years ago, and Mary has become such a fan of Fix It that she calls them a few times a year to help her check things off her house to-do list. Fix It volunteers have replaced her fridge and furnace filters, installed grab bars to help her avoid falls, installed and checked her smoke detectors, changed lights, removed hornet nests and more.
“I got to really love the program. It’s like somebody you can count on – it’s like having a husband there, kind of, who can fix things when they need fixing,” she said with a laugh.
She especially loves that Fix It, like all Catholic Charities programs, serves people of all faiths, she added.
In February, Mary lost her husband Frank, after a long struggle with dementia. As she thought of the flowers and food people tend to send in condolence, she realized she preferred people remember her husband in a more meaningful way – so she asked them to instead donate to the Fix It program, to ensure others would benefit from a program that had helped her so much. She personally went one step further: She amended her will to include a bequest for Fix It.
“I believe that to whom much is given, much is expected. I think we have an obligation to help people who need the help, especially when you’re so much better off financially than they are,” said Mary, a parishioner at St. Aloysius in Jackson.
Such support is deeply appreciated and needed, said John McCrone, Fix It’s volunteer coordinator.
“Mary is our typical client and also an atypical client. She’s 79, a widow, living on her own. That makes her our typical client,” McCrone said. “On the other hand, most of our clients don’t have the means to give back for the services they receive from us. That’s what makes Mary so special to me, and more so to those other clients we are helping every day.”
The program recently received funding from Ocean County related to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to expand Fix It services, including adding “reassurance calls.” Volunteers check in on isolated seniors to ensure their safety and stability and offer a friendly ear.
That’s welcome news to Mary. It can be intimidating to open the door to strangers, she said, but the Fix It volunteers who have visited her are “the nicest people.”
“All the people that I’ve met have been wonderful, and it’s very freeing to know that they will be sending someone good to me,” she said. “That’s a nice feeling.”