Until 10 years ago, life was good for Frank. The avid outdoorsman lived with his wife in a house they owned in Albemarle County. A building contractor by trade, Frank enjoyed hunting and fishing with his three beloved flushing dogs that he trained himself.

I met Frank recently at the Scottsville Mobile Food Pantry, where his truck was parked in a long line of vehicles waiting to pick up food.

Frank said his life took a turn for the worse when he began experiencing pain, weakness, and numbness down his arms and hands. He was diagnosed with neuropathy, a condition caused by compressed discs in his neck.

As the neuropathy worsened, he couldn’t work anymore. He told me he applied for disability benefits repeatedly, but the government turned down his requests every time. During a court hearing, one judge said he could work at an office job, but for Frank, sitting down for more than 10 minutes becomes excruciating.

When he shared that he’s been homeless for several months, he burst into tears. “I’m so sorry,” he said. “I don’t mean to get so upset.”

After getting turned down for disability, things grew worse for Frank, 59. Three years ago, he was diagnosed with ocular melanoma. Since he can’t drive for more than 15 minutes before his hands lock up and can’t grip the steering wheel, he has had to figure out a way to get to his radiation appointments every week. Sometimes friends give him a ride, but he thinks they are tiring of his regular need for help.

He and his wife eventually lost their home and moved into a rental apartment. After 19 years of marriage, she left him on Valentine’s Day, and Frank couldn’t afford to pay the rent on his own.

Rather than give up his dogs so he can stay in a shelter, he has been living with them out of his vehicle and sleeping in a tent. They are, after all, everything to him, and all that he has right now.

He says  he doesn’t know what he’s going to do (eliciting more tears). He’s just trying to survive.

Frank’s been coming to the Mobile Food Pantry in Scottsville since March of 2018. He said he is extremely grateful for the food he gets from these distributions.

As a reminder of better times, he showed me where photos of him and his Cocker Spaniel were featured in Virginia Outdoor magazine and the Boykin Spaniel Society Magazine just four years ago. In one photo, he’s wearing his hunting gear and posing with his hunting rifle. As he shared those moments from his past, he looked happy.

Maria Longley is the communications coordinator for the Food Bank. She visits partner pantries to meet and listen to the women, men, and families who rely on the food they receive from them.