Community comes together for Portland family coping with death, job loss
PORTLAND — Community members are rallying in support of a Mona Road family beset by personal and financial tragedies.
On July 7, Jamie Kingsburg, a 32-year-old mother of four, went to the hospital after battling what she thought was a severe cold for several weeks. There, she was told she was suffering from severe aplastic anemia, a disease that – like leukemia – attacks bone marrow.
While receiving treatment, Kingsbury developed pneumonia and eventually an invasive fungal infection in her lungs. Lacking the necessary blood cells to ward off the infection, she died early Saturday morning, Sept. 19.
Her death couldn't have come at a worse time for her family.
Her husband, Jeff, was laid off at Fairchild Semiconductor in South Portland last year, losing his life insurance policy. Since then, the family has fallen behind its bills and is now struggling to come up with burial costs for Jamie.
Jeff Kingsbury was offered a job at Bath Iron Works on Thursday. Although the draftsman job paid only 60 percent of his previous salary as a engineer, Kingsburg was planning to take the job to make ends meet. But now Kingsbury fears that window of opportunity may have closed, since he has not been able to follow up.
Meanwhile, his 1-year-old son, Ethan, who is suffering from gastro-intestinal feeding issues, just returned home after having corrective surgery and requires constant care. He came home on Sunday, one day after his mother's death.
But now, friends, neighbors and people who don't even know the Kingbury family are rallying around them, offering both material and emotional support.
Julie Armstrong, a family friend, is organizing a "Casserole Brigade," to help the grieving family.
"This family is in crisis," Armstrong said. "It's one of the worst situations I have heard about in my lifetime."
Armstrong is organizing an effort to tap into community resources, such as fellow parents in Girl Scout troops, school groups, churches and other organizations to help the family.
She is generating a master meal calendar, so the family is not inundated with food. Although the family has no food allergies to consider, Jeff Kingsbury said his kids do not like casseroles that contain a lot of onions. Casseroles and other diners should be placed in containers that do not need to be returned, Armstrong said, and should include heating instructions.
In addition to organizing meals for the family, Armstrong is soliciting a variety of other donations, including gas cards and gift certificates, house cleaning services and gift cards to Wal-Mart, Target and Home Depot.
Because the family is having difficulty paying funeral expenses for Jamie Kingsbury, Armstrong is also collecting cash donations for the family. Monetary donations may be sent to Jeff Kingsbury, 25 Mona Road, Portland, ME 04103.
Armstrong said she is compelled to assist the family not only because she and her kids have grown close to the Kingsburys through Girl Scouts, but because Armstrong's mother died when she was 6 years old, roughly the same age as 7-year-old Kimberly Kingsbury.
"It's a gift to be able to help someone," Armstrong said. "I want to do for them what I wish people had done for me."
Armstrong has sent letters to Lyseth Elementary and Lyman Moore Middle schools, where the Kingsbury children go to school, asking teachers to inform students about the loss. She hopes students will not only be sympathetic, but also include the Kingsbury children in after-school activities, like going to the movies.
Melissa Burke is one of the dozen or so community members already stepping forward. Burke said she and others need to be there for the family for the long term.
"This family is going to be dealing with this for the rest of their lives," Burke said. "It's really important that this (support) not pass quickly."
Although he never thought be would be in this position, Jeff Kingsbury said he appreciates the effort to help his family. He is compiling spreadsheets to keep track of people who offer assistance, which he said would be needed when he goes back to work.
"I'm not a beggar," he said. "As an engineer, all I can do is create another spreadsheet and organize the names into a matrix of who can help."
Kingsbury said his wife, who spent two years in the Marine Corps, wanted to go to nursing school to become a patient advocate. He hopes that people learn from his wife's case, since she failed to follow up on a questionable blood test last fall.
"She really wanted people to follow up on their blood tests," he said. "That is a legacy she can leave."
Anyone interested in helping can e-mail Armstrong at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 615-1781.