.- When Invista announced plans last fall to lay off 400 of the 500 employees at its Seaford nylon plant in Delware, Bill Evaristo went into a limbo-like state, wondering if he might continue to be employed at the place where he had worked the past 37 years. Last week, Evaristo, 56, received his final judgment from Invista. On Monday, he will join the burgeoning ranks of the unemployed.
While some might liken Evaristo's news to moving into hell, he takes a different slant.
“We’re blessed, even though I’ve been laid off,” he said, noting that his wife, Becky, works with the Upward Bound Math and Science Program at Delaware Technical & Community College and that he receives early retirement benefits from Dupont, which had owned the nylon plant until 2004. “There are a lot of people in a lot worse position than I am right
Evaristo, a member of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Seaford, is among a growing legion of people who have lost their jobs, had their work reduced, or who struggle to find full-time employment in the current recession. For the week ending Jan. 17, the U.S. Labor Department reported that a record 4.78 million Americans received unemployment benefits.
“They keep saying another big company is laying people off. I wonder when it’s going to end,” Evaristo said.
Those affected are from all economic levels and in virtually all sectors of the economy. Within the diocese, the impact has been felt in many areas, including emergency mergers and subsequent reductions in force of various banking institutions, closing of the Chrysler car plant in Newark and elimination of an entire shift at the General Motors plant in Wilmington, the layoffs at Invista, and a drastic drop in construction in Sussex County.
Despite their struggles, many have kept their faith and some even see silver linings in their plight.
‘I forgot how blessed I was’
“Everything happens for a reason; I’ve always believed that,” said J.D. Belmonte, 48. He lost his job as general manager of Advantage Dodge in Elkton, Md., when the dealership with more than 25 employees closed in September. New car sales in Maryland last year plummeted to their lowest level since at least 1998, according to the Maryland Department of Motor Vehicles.
“I’ve thought of it as a blessing, to be honest,” said Belmonte, a member of Immaculate Conception Church in Elkton. “After all those prosperous years I forgot how blessed I was — and still am.”
He had managed to set aside money that he now uses for living expenses and to continue his health insurance policy. “I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who didn’t have any reserves and are struggling,” he said.
While he looks for another job, he does things around the house — maintenance projects and tending to the yard — that he did not have time to do when he spent 50 to 60 hours a week at the dealership, where he worked since moving from Texas in 1990.
The spare time also has Faith, hope and the economy allowed him to spend time with his wife, Peggi. “We do a lot of things together now.” The couple celebrated their 25th anniversary in December.
Marlee, the younger of the Belmonte’s two children, attends Elon University in North Carolina. J.D. Belmonte had paid for some of her education while he was working. In a sense, he said, he still is helping her through college: By not having the salary he previously earned, she now is eligible for a number of grants and scholarships.
Struggle after loss
Last summer Don Elder, 38, and his wife Jodie had to decide whether they could continue to afford sending their son D.J. to Most Blessed Sacrament School in Berlin, Md., about 30 miles from their Sussex County, Delaware home.
A drastic downturn in residential construction meant Elder had less and less work, which translated to a decrease in income.
“The last year or two things just slowed and slowed and slowed,” Elder said. “I’ve never seen anything like this. I’ve been down here 15 years.” Building permits for dwellings in Sussex County declined by 49 percent from 2006 to last year, according to the Sussex County Planning and Zoning Department.
As the Elders looked at their finances — even considering Jodie’s work with Xerox and some scholarship assistance that was offered — they reluctantly decided they could not afford to keep D.J., 8, at Most Blessed Sacrament. He now attends Long Neck Elementary. “With what I lost, it’s really been a struggle” to keep up with the mortgage and basic monthly bills, Don Elder said.
Elder said he still has a strong faith in God and in the Catholic Church. The family attends Mary Mother of Peace Church in Millsboro.
“We all have our trials,” he said. As his trials have continued, “I definitely pray a lot more.”
Home in jeopardy
Sometimes, prayer seems to go unanswered.
Elizabeth White of Holy Cross in Dover had purchased a modest house in 2006 but a year later lost her seasonal position as a social worker for a state program called CARE Delaware. She has received unemployment benefits and gone through a senior training program but has yet to land an ongoing job.
“My home is now in jeopardy, (and) the electric, gas and car insurance seem to come around sooner than they used to,” she wrote in an e-mail. “I pray to my patron saints daily and to God, friends light candles and pray for me, but things are more tight. I have great faith but have exhausted my resources.”
Francis “Frank”Jackowski admits “God hears some very salty language” as he questions God’s will. Jackowski, 58, an accountant, said he had worked at temporary positions recently but can’t find a temporary or permanent position in today’s market. “We’re struggling,” said Jackowski, whose wife is a public school teacher in New Jersey. They attend St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Bear.
“I want to go back to work. I like to work hard, earn a paycheck, and look up in the sky and say ‘thank God.’”
The ones who need prayers
Evaristo will brush up on his computer skills and may take some college courses as he seeks a new job. “My wife says an opportunity has opened up; that’s the way I am looking at it.” As he upgrades his skills and looks for a new job, he plans to become more involved in service activities.
Even during his employment limbo, he was among Our Lady of Lourdes parishioners who packed groceries for Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets for needy families; his wife was in charge of the program.
Now he’s eyeing a new program at Our Lady of Lourdes called Angel Food Ministries; a training session was held last week. The Georgia-based program purchases restaurant-grade food in bulk and passes the savings — about 50 percent of retail cost — through a network of church host sites in 35 states.
Evaristo worries about the poor, and wonders if Angel Ministry will help those who received the Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets, some of whom may not be able to pay the reduced price. He believes their needs are far greater than his. “I’ll find a job,” he said. “They’re the ones who need our prayers.”
Printed with permission from the Dialog, newspaper for the Diocese of Wilmington, Deleware.