The Blade and WTOL-TV Channel 11 are teaming up throughout the year to tell the stories of how several families are coping with hard times.
Abelino Ruiz has found the silver lining in his October layoff.
"I've virtually gotten to know my kids in the past few months that I've been laid off," said Mr. Ruiz, who lives in his West Toledo home with his wife, Jeanne, son, Abelino, Jr., 14, and daughters, Jenna, 8, Adriana, 6, and Angela, 5. "It's almost a bonding thing."
As a factory worker at Riker Products, Mr. Ruiz would work the late shift, meaning he often wouldn't see his kids during the work week unless Mrs. Ruiz brought them to visit him during his lunch break. Now he's involved in parent groups at their schools and playing a more active role than ever in his kids' lives.
But there's been much pain for the family since Mr. Ruiz lost his job last fall. Mrs. Ruiz, who left her work as an administrative assistant in 2000 to tend to the family, also is unable to find work.
Like many families in their neighborhood, the Ruizes are in preforeclosure on their home. They are working with a legal-aid firm to try to bring down their mortgage payments, which have topped $1,200 per month, in hopes of being able to stay in their house as they search for work.
But with Mr. Ruiz collecting $1,000 per month in unemployment benefits, making ends meet has been challenging. The maximum unemployment benefits for a family his size would be $503 a week, or just more than $2,000 a month.
"We were trying to swing this high mortgage on top of everything else, but then the economic downturn hit," Mr. Ruiz said.
Mr. and Mrs. Ruiz said they are looking for jobs "diligently," putting in three or four applications each week. But they are seeing that there aren't enough jobs to satisfy all of the applicants.
"Unfortunately, we haven't heard from anybody," Mrs. Ruiz said.
Mr. Ruiz added, "It seems like every week I'm competing with 200 or 300 people who lost their jobs last week. The economy isn't getting better."
The Ruiz family is doing what it can to cope and tapping into resources available to them and other families. And they aren't embarrassed about needing help, she said.
"We are tired of being on government assistance," Mrs. Ruiz said. "We aren't embarrassed because there are so many other people who have that food card."
Bill Kitson, the president and CEO of United Way of Greater Toledo, said one of the problems that families dealing with job losses are encountering is that they don't know when to seek help and where to find it.
"For most families, the first thing they do is figure out how to survive until next week, then they look to family and friends," Mr. Kitson said. "They cobble together their own version of a safety net until it just breaks.
"We can't wait for people to fall through the safety net. We need people to realize they are in trouble sooner."
The Ruiz family has gone to the Lucas County Department of Job and Family Services for assistance with food and medical benefits, while working to lower other bills and identify assistance programs to help offset costs like heating.
"If you call your utilities provider when you lose your job, they have ways to help you," Mr. Kitson said. "When that guy shows up with a wrench, it's over."
In addition to spending time on the phone reducing his bills and waiting in lines for assistance on his energy bills, Mr. Ruiz is trying to keep busy by helping his neighbors, and doing odds and ends around the house. With money tight everywhere, he said neighbors have turned to trading services and goods instead of using cash.
"If everybody would just pull together and help each other in Lucas County and the world, we could really pull together," Mrs. Ruiz said.
Mrs. Ruiz said her family has worked hard not to lose sight of what really matters as they search for jobs and fight to keep their home.
"If people get so caught up in their bills, the job losses, and how they are suffering, then what about the kids?" Mrs. Ruiz said.
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