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A story to warm the heart, and the home: Generous donation highlights an often-overlooked need

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furnace couple
Nenita and Willard "L.C." Johnson stand in the kitchen of their Morningside neighborhood home

SIOUX CITY (KTIV) - "I'm not a furnace man," said Willard "L.C." Johnson as he looks over the old, worn out furnace in the basement of his Morningside home.

It was a long, cold winter for Johnson and his wife, Nenita. After their furnace went out last fall, they got by running space heaters to keep two rooms of their Morningside home warm.

"I burned up two space heaters already," explained Johnson.

They survived, but that furnace had to be replaced. Having raised their own kids and their grandkids, they just didn't have the savings to pay the $4,400 dollar price-tag.

"I couldn't save that type of money in this type of time," Johnson said.

They applied everywhere for assistance, but between their monthly Social Security checks and income from part-time jobs, they didn't qualify.

It's something they see a lot of at the Community Action Agency of Siouxland: Hard-working people who don't make a whole lot of money, but make just too much to qualify for assistance.

"It is a terrible thing when people come to you, especially with something like this where it's cold outside and they don't have any heat in their home and we're unable to help them," said Jean Logan, executive director the action agency. "You know, our agency exists for that purpose, so when we come upon a family that we know needs help and doesn't have other resources, it's really hard for us."

Which is why the state and federally-funded agency relies so heavily on private contributions as well.

"It's so sad that somebody making 40-grand doesn't qualify for a single thing, but does not have discretionary money to put in a new furnace," said Mark Monson, the board chair of the action agency.

Monson said he sees it all the time: people who just fall between the cracks. That's why he made a private contribution of his own, to help pay for a new furnace for L.C. and Nenita. Two people he's never met.

"I mean, they're living day-to-day and would have been doing just fine had the furnace not gone out. That's pretty heart-breaking," Monson said.

"I thought, 'You know, I've been lucky in my life," Judy Monson said. "I wanted to pass that on to someone else. Which I think we can all think about that and possibly do that for somebody else."

So, earlier this month, there it was: a brand-new furnace paid for by the donation from the Monsons and $1,400 L.C. and Nenita had saved up. Kalin's helped, too, cutting them a break on the price.

"I'm very pleased. I'm thankful," said L.C. "I'm very thankful to have somebody help because there's no other way that I could get another furnace. There's no other way."

This transplanted Chicagoan doesn't try to hide his enthusiasm for his Sioux City community.

"Never have I been where people help people like they do out here," he said.

His wife, Nenita shares the sentiment. "Honey, I love it! I love it! I love ya! I love ya!" she said.

The community action agency can't help everyone who needs help. But private contributions do make a big difference in the lives of individuals. Like L.C. and Nenita.

Al Joens

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