More MS news articles for Dec 2001

Ina Carpenter prays to keep dream alive

She's raising eight grandchildren and is struggling with multiple sclerosis

Published Sunday, December 2, 2001
By Rowena Coetsee

ANTIOCH -- Her purpose in life, she says, is to help others.

"It's God's will," Ina Carpenter says matter-of-factly. "That's what I was born to do."

Despite the tough hand life has dealt her, she's fulfilling her calling.

In addition to caring for her four younger siblings at different times in her life, as well as raising her own two children and a stepdaughter, Carpenter took a third generation under her wing.

Until late last year, the 56-year-old widow had 10 mouths to feed. She's still caring for eight of them, all belonging to her daughter or stepdaughter.

She spared the youngsters from languishing in the foster care system, where six of the eight had spent time.

Carpenter adopted two, her 18-year-old granddaughter and her stepdaughter's 10-year-old.

Ranging in age from 8 to 21, five now struggle with learning disabilities and a sixth was born with a mental handicap.

Unable to work because she has multiple sclerosis, Carpenter lives on the $869 monthly disability check she receives from Social Security along with the government allowance that families receive for each foster child.

But as she has given, Carpenter also has received.

She became a client of the Salvation Army Corps after moving her brood to Antioch from San Francisco six years ago. The agency is one of many in Contra Costa aided by readers' donations to the annual Share the Spirit campaign.

Since then, she's regularly turned to the Antioch nonprofit organization to make ends meet.

Carpenter managed to buy a four-bedroom home based on the $33,000 a year she receives in government aid. Without additional help she says she wouldn't be able to take the children on outings.

"Try to put 10 kids in coats, pay car notes and house notes," she said of the challenge she faced last fall before two girls returned to their mothers.

"My food bill is almost $1,000 a month. (Withholding supplemental aid) would take away from them."

This year's Thanksgiving turkey came from the Salvation Army, as did the new coats five of her girls received last winter. Three bags of groceries each month help Carpenter stretch her food budget; shoes, shirts, pants and skirts make it easier to keep the kids in clothes.

The Salvation Army bought the children radios and gift certificates to Target last year, and employees help a handful of them with their homework every day after school.

On Tuesday evenings the children sit down to a hot meal along with other members of the Salvation Army's Kids Club, which organizes activities such as arts and crafts projects.

Carpenter's girls attend the Sunday school the Salvation Army offers and accompany her to its church services.

After that, they change into the uniforms it subsidizes and attend the weekly cheerleading practices held on the premises.

Gratitude motivates Carpenter to spend half a dozen hours a week volunteering at the Salvation Army answering the telephone, filing and cooking the Tuesday dinners.

After all, she says, the organization is helping her realize her only dream.

"If God would leave me here long enough to see my babies be grown, that's all I ask," Carpenter said. "Right now they wouldn't have a chance. They (are) too little."

© 2001 Contra Costa Newspapers Inc