Shortly after hearing about the launch of Fairfield Living magazine, Amber Schiavi, digital operations manager at Moffly Media, pulled me aside and asked: “Do you know about Jo-Jo’s?”
I dug around and found out what she and many people in the Stratfield area were talking about. Jo-Jo’s is located at 1238 Stratfield Road—a community type of newsstand, the kind where you run into your neighbors and talk for a bit. It’s popular in an old-fashioned way—people tend to value it in terms that passersby wouldn’t understand.
It’s owned and run by Joe D’Costa. With the help of State Rep. Kim Fawcett, D’Costa stepped up to let his store become a food-pantry collection site for Operation Hope; nearby shops—Dragon 168, Salon Sazardon, the Bagel Stop and Creative Arts Studio—offered their support to get it going.
Fawcett says, “Joe created a permanent collection site for Operation Hope on the Stratfield side of town. He then brings the food to the pantry. This is a nice thing because of convenience; people can just swing in and drop off food for the pantry.”
D’Costa states simply, “Times are tough, and the way I see it, I have to give back. It was the right thing to do.”
What he’s doing is no little thing. According to Operation Hope, last year 33,000 people were homeless—nearly half of those were children. Operation Hope, which formed in 1986, provided 137,000 meals to people in need. The food pantry is run by volunteers, who sort and stock the shelves with such basics as food, toiletries, and diapers, and then distribute them to clients. The organization also operates forty-six units of affordable housing, which are offered to homeless people, as well as a shelter that is open 365 days a year. Along with a bed, shower, laundry and meals, guests meet with case and social workers. The Community Kitchen at the same site serves about forty-five individuals each day.
Learning about D’Costa, a local resident making a difference in the lives of people in his community, might have been inspiration enough, especially around the holidays. But in a Sunday edition of the Connecticut Post, “Opinion” pages editor Michael J. Daly headed a piece titled, “Coffee, conversation and a shot at reform.” Yes, he wrote about Joe D’Costa. “Joe is sick,” the newsman and a Jo-Jo’s regular wrote. “He has a condition called familial adenomatous polyposis syndrome.” If untreated, this inherited condition puts him at risk for cancer. Daly added that D’Costa had trouble getting insurance coverage. D’Costa, at thirty-six years old, is now trying to move the conversation to one about health-care reform—his own, very personal, story as fuel.
He tells me that his condition needs testing every six months. Speaking about insurance he added, “I never hid anything from them”; and he says he paid all the premiums. When he learned he needed an operation to remove a tumor, D’Costa says he was told the procedure wouldn’t be covered.
“What am I supposed to do? Not paying for anything is not an option,” he says. So, he canceled the insurance and tried another company, which refused to cover the operation because it was a pre-existing condition. He says the company told him it would cover him if anything changes. “It’s a genetic defect. It’s not going to change,” D’Costa says.
Fawcett says, “We tried to see if he would qualify for some type of government assistance, but because of income, he does not. He is not rich, don’t get me wrong, but he has too much income to qualify for aide. He often says that it doesn’t seem right that if in our country you work hard, support yourself, run a business that you can’t get access to health care? It is counterintuitive, but there are people out there like Joe and we still haven’t figured out how to get them the access to the health care they need.”
Joe and others like him would like to know what can be done. Fawcett notes: “I spent the past four years working on the Health Care partnership legislation that was finally passed and signed by Governor Malloy this year. I worked on the bill because it would have extended affordable, quality state health care to small-business owners like Joe. At the last minute this year they took the piece out that would have given Joe those benefits. I am hoping we will come back around to this issue again next year and try to add the small-business section back.”
Daly says that Joe is “an affable, lively character; he’s representative of a lot of people’s frustrations with our health care system; an immigrant who became a citizen…and one of the hardest working people you’ll ever meet.”
D’Costa knows he needs that operation and what it will cost. What he doesn’t know is where to turn for help. Meanwhile, he’s running his business and supporting Operation Hope; he’s even starting work on another charity to help other locals.
For information on how to run a food drive, items the pantry needs, what a pantry worker does and more, go to operationhopect.org.