Winter is the perfect time to explore the natural stone shelters where native Arkansans once lived
"If it wasn't for Fishnet, we wouldn't survive, there's no way," John Dubois said. A myriad of health problems have left Dubois unable to walk without assistance, and he is struggling to make ends meet with his wife, Brenda, who is his caretaker, and their 15-year-old daughter, Elaina.
Dubois moved to Jacksonville in 2001 to be closer to doctors helping him with heart problems. "I had no job and it got rough," Dubois said. "Fishnet Missions was the only place we could find that would help us. Everybody else kept turning us down."
Fishnet Missions, based in Jacksonville and run by Dewey and Barbara Sims, distributes food twice a week, serving more than 40,000 people a month.
"It got real rough," Dubois said. "I would go to Fishnet, he would give us a little bag of leg quarters along with some canned goods. I'd come home, take my meat cleaver and I'd chop that leg quarter into three pieces. We were eating off that. We survived. Fishnet got us surviving until I could get on my feet."
Once Dubois started working and making enough to support his family without assistance, he began volunteering at Fishnet. "I wanted to pay it forward," he said. "Because they helped me when we couldn't go no more." Dubois continued to volunteer with Fishnet for years, until his health deteriorated and he no longer could; his wife continues to volunteer.
In 2004, Dubois landed a job with the Pulaski County Public Works Department. Working with beaver traps in 2009, Dubois said, "a beaver nearly tore my arm off." Attempting to re-set what he thought was an empty trap, the trap's chain ended up mangling his arm when it turned out a beaver was in it and tried to escape. He dislocated his elbow and wrist and had extensive nerve damage in his wrist, sidelining him for more than a year. After using up all of his medical leave, he lost his job in January 2010.
Dubois got workman's compensation until his treatment ended. He also draws disability because of his heart problems, which date back to 2000 (he's had five bypasses and 23 heart procedures). Shortly after he began looking for work again after recovering from his arm injury, he developed major blood clots in both legs, and was eventually diagnosed with peripheral artery disease. It put him in a wheelchair, and he's had six operations in the last five months.
Dubois is now able to get around with a walker, but still can't walk or bathe himself without assistance. "I'm still fighting," he said. "I've made it to a walker but I can't walk unassisted very far. I keep trying. Just recently I've been able to do certain things. I'll be honest with you, I've been down to my lowest. But I'm not giving up."
When he was able-bodied, he said, he'd work seven days a week, adding side jobs to his regular job. "Lazy ain't in my vocabulary," he said. "My health just got me down. It's been whittling away at me ever since. I'm just breaking down."
Dubois is now completely unable to work and Brenda has become a full-time caregiver. When his unemployment checks ended in 2012, they were left to rely fully on Dubois's small disability check, leaving them at the end of their rope. In January of this year, they started going to Fishnet, where they had been volunteering for years, to get food for themselves.
"We barely make it check to check," Dubois said. "If it wouldn't be for the food we get from Fishnet, we wouldn't make it because I don't have enough money by the time I pay all my bills. There's just nothing there, man. I've got my daughter and my wife. It's just tough. If it wouldn't be for places like Fishnet, a lot of us would starve. That is our only avenue. You gotta have a roof over your head, you gotta pay your bills. Food is what you cut back on."
Fishnet Missions was founded in 2001 by the Simses, after the small food pantry they had started at their local church grew to an operation feeding almost 1,500 families a month. Today, Fishnet Missions operates in Jacksonville from a 12,000 square-foot warehouse building and a 6,000 square-foot thrift store, which helps support their food pantry operation. The-all volunteer organization distributes eight tons of food each week to people in need.
Fishnet Missions welcomes items for resale at their Thrift Store, donations of food for distribution, and financial donations (100 percent of which go to operational expenses). For more information, call 241-1211 or visit its website at myfishnetmissions.org.
In addition to individual donations, Fishnet relies on sponsors like Arkansas Foodbank, which acquires food and distributes it to 300 agencies like Fishnet across the state. For more information on Arkansas Foodbank or to donate, call 565-8121 or visit its website at arkansasfoodbank.org.