Just how many people in Lehigh who don't have jobs because of the Great Recession may be unknown. But many guestimates are in the few hundred range. Many of those people are not being counted on jobless rate reports handed out by the federal government because they no longer are receiving benefits and have quit looking for full-time jobs. The latest report stated that 7.8 percent of Americans are jobless. There are thousands more.
Two people in Lehigh, like hundreds of others here, face the ordeal daily on such things as finding food, paying for electricity, paying for water and putting gasoline in their cars if they have a car. Many have lost their cars and many are getting help from local food pantries and from local churches.
Donovan Anthony, 35, and his friend, Jo Ellen Morino, 46, are two of the many who don't have full or even part-time jobs in Lehigh. But to survive, they have to do what they can to earn money just for the essentials of life. Many in Lehigh, a larger number that most people think, have been forced to live in the woods because they don't have housing, either because they couldn't pay rent anymore or because they lost their homes.
Jo Ellen Morino
Donovan, whose friends call him by his last name of "Anthony" says he knows what it is like to have lived in the woods and trying to find work during the day. And his friend, Jo Ellen Morino, knows too just how hard it is to survive daily when there is no welfare check or salary from a job coming. She says she does get around $42 a month in food stamps, but that money doesn't go very far when you're also trying to clothe and feed a son.
Morino freely admits that she and Anthony would be living in the woods if it were not for the fact that she owns her own home on E. Third St. in Lehigh. But because she couldn't pay taxes last year, a friend stepped up and paid them for her so now the friend's name is on the deed.
But Morino and Anthony don't sit home and idle the time away. They are always looking for a job - down the street, in the neighborhood or anywhere else in Lehigh if they can get transportation.
And Morino is also able to get food from a food pantry near the First United Methodist Church, but it doesn't go far.
"We get up early every day and head out to find a job or to go to a job that we have planned," Morino said. "Walking has become a way of life if you want to get somewhere to find a job."
And those jobs that she finds are varied. Sometimes someone hires her to clean a house, take care of someone, detail a car, pull weeds, dig for flower beds you name it and she has probably done it.
But with the hard times, she and her boyfriend sometimes have to wait to get paid because those who have hired them for a job have to wait until they get their paycheck, so they are at the mercy of those who hire them.
"Oh it's hard and a lot of people really don't know how hard it is to find something to do and get paid for," Morino said. "Some nights I can't even sleep because I am worrying about where the next dollar is coming from."
Since spring and into summer, Anthony has cut grass for people. Early on he had the use of a riding mower, but that ended when a neighbor who was renting it to him, moved away. Now he uses a walking power mower, provided to him by another neighbor.
Morino said she and Anthony didn't have money this summer to pay for their electric and went without air conditioning. Sometimes they would stay with a friend and other times, they said they sweated it out with all the windows open.
Morino couldn't pay a water bill and still doesn't have water.
"We finally got electricity by saving every dollar we could. We are very strict about using much of it because we don't want a big bill this month, "she said.
They also have not had water for months because they can't afford to pay the FGUA water bill. So they depend on neighbors who will allow them to fill large 10-gallon jugs of water. And Morino said she washes her hair outside with water from a neighbor's spigot.
Both Morino and Anthony put their money together so they can buy some food, soap and other personal items.
Morino said she is available to help care for an elderly person, perform child care, and cook because she has worked in a restaurant before. She made good money when she was a meat cutter for a local supermarket.
"And Anthony can do just about anything. He is very proficient as a handyman. He loves working on motors and does a lot of fixer up things around people's homes. He lost his job in Fort Myers a few years ago and they both have been to hundreds of places to apply for work, but to no avail.
"I enjoy cleaning people's homes. I can do just about anything inside or outside and so can Anthony," she said.
Morino has knocked on so many doors in Lehigh that she can't remember. But she has to knock on doors to ask if there is something she can do for them to earn a little bit of money. She doesn't want handouts, but jobs, she says.
With fall and winter coming on, Anthony knows he won't have any more grass cutting jobs and it scares him.
"There are other things I can do in the yard like cleaning it up, trimming trees, and with Christmas coming, we both have put up lots of Christmas lights for people in the past," Anthony said.
Morino says they get food from two different pantries the First Congregational Community Church and at the Our Daily Bread. And Morino volunteers her time at Our Daily Bread if she doesn't have a job.
Morino came to Lehigh from Ocala to take care of her ailing father. After his death, she said she bought the house from her siblings, by taking money from her savings and inheritance.
Just the use of a phone is a major problem for Morino and Anthony.
"It's hard when you can't even afford to pay for a cell phone monthly, but food and other things have to come first," she said. Some of her friends let her use their phones when she needs to set up jobs. And friends give her rides to go and collect money from people who owe them and were not able to pay for their services when they were completed.
"So many people owe us," Morino said smiling. "It's hard on everybody. I'd just love to see the economy improve so we can earn a living and be able to pay our bills again and buy our own food."
Neither Morino nor Anthony have a car although she once had a truck, but had to let it go to get money to live on.
"We know we are not special. We know there are so many others here in Lehigh going through the same things we are going through. We feel for all those people and we know times are even tough for people who still have a job.
"But when you have nothing, it can get to you. But I try to keep my chin up and keep Anthony in a positive mood. We appreciate all the people we have done jobs for this summer and fall. And all I ask is that if they need help for a job or know someone who needs a small job done, that they let us know.
At present, without a cell phone to use, if someone wants to help, they may contact The Lehigh Acres Citizen which will put them in touch with Morino. You can call 368-3944 and leave a message. Or email Citizen936@hotmail if you know of a job or can help.
"One thing I plan on doing if I can get a ride and that is to vote on Nov. 6. It's my obligation and I hope the person I vote for can help the millions of people who like us are having a rough time making a living.
She said those who have to go to the different food kitchens or to Lehigh Community Services for food appreciate others who donate food so others can eat.
And Morino even held a garage and yard sale last week for Our Daily Bread so they could earn money to buy food they get from the Harry Chapin Food Bank in Fort Myers.
My driveway was larger than theirs so it just made sense for me to let them use our property," Morino said.
"A lot of people donate things to Our Daily Bread and they have yard sales to raise money to help people like us.
"We just want to work like everyone else. We just want a job to survive," Morino said. "Any type of work would be appreciated."