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‘Small Miracles’ sees need on North Whidbey
“You don’t have to be low-income for this to happen,” said Stephany Vogel, a mother of two from Coupeville.
Vogel, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2005, is insured through her husband but still must pay 10 to 20 percent of her medical bills out-of-pocket.
She considers her family middle-class, with a husband who works full-time, and Vogel works part-time as an artist.
After ten months of cancer treatment, Vogel owed almost $10,000 in related medical bills. About 15 to 20 bills filled her mailbox each week.
Shouldering those expenses, she also paid money for a ferry trip to a Seattle hospital six days a week for chemotherapy.
“I was worried and taking on medical bills left and right, but I didn’t want to call for help,” Vogel said.
One day, a friend encouraged her to contact Small Miracles, a community-supported Central Whidbey organization that raises funds for uncovered medical bills and emergency situations, and they offered to pay her ferry expenses.
Vogel was eventually able to regain her financial footing, and helped repay the organization in donation money. Last year, she joined their volunteer board.
“After having gone through that experience, even if you have good insurance and think you’re comfortable financially, something like that can be devastating,” Vogel said.
Vogel’s case is not unique. However, Small Miracles is limited to providing help for people on Central Whidbey. It’s a spinoff of a South Whidbey group named Friends of Friends that has been helping people with medical expenses for years.
After receiving almost 20 phone calls from the Oak Harbor area since last August, the group hopes to begin a new volunteer branch on North Whidbey.
“A quarter of our calls come from Oak Harbor and all we can do is refer them to other organizations,” Joyce Peterson, president of the Small Miracles board, said.
Small Miracles is a small operation, with seven volunteers who work from home. Peterson described their assistance as a one-time service, for critical needs. In cases in which the money can’t be raised, they refer people to their personal, community contacts.
Dr. Timothy Wezeman gave one man a special deal on dentures after Small Miracles referred him, board member Emily Ramsey said. The man was disabled and uninsured.
“Usually when people call us, they’re in really bad straits,” Peterson said.
Recently, the group received a call from a single mom who moved to Oak Harbor from Seattle. Her daughter was having lung problems, but the family didn’t have insurance and they were facing eviction.
The woman lived outside of the group’s fundraising boundaries, and was instead referred to a Lion’s Club in Oak Harbor.
“It’s heartbreaking to say ‘There’s no one covering Oak Harbor,’ even though it’s the largest population on the island,” Vogel said.
In 2008, Small Miracles gave $6,000 in assistance, using mostly community donations. The group helped with medical needs, ferry tickets, gas vouchers, emergency dental care, lab work, prescriptions and doctors’ bills.
“If someone calls, we may not be able to solve the problem but we can help in some way, whether it’s finding them treatment or helping pay for their house,” Vogel said.
The board suspects that there is more of a need than they are seeing and that phone calls from North Whidbey will continue to escalate as the economy sours.
Individuals interested in helping the Central and South organizations begin a North Whidbey group can contact Friends of Friends at 360-221-4535 or Small Miracles at 360-672-5651.