|Bernice Nelson, back, with David and Toshika Torres and their baby.|
With help from others, 80-year-old Bernice Nelson adopts another Katrina family When Terry Vankoughnett called Bernice and asked, "Could you possibly take on another family of Katrina victims?" She was reluctant to say yes. She was still giving assistance to two other families she had adopted in October.
But the new family was desperate and had special needs, so Bernice agreed to help. Terry and his wife Mimi are associated with Paradise Community Services, trying to help the victims of Katrina in San Diego County. They work with the Interfaith Community Services in Escondido. Terry told Bernice he had not been able to find anyone to help a family with a new baby that was moving into an apartment from a hotel.
He and Mimi had been bringing diapers and other necessities to the family all the way from Escondido. Bernice was already assisting two single mothers, Natasha Harris and Althea Stewart. With the help of her Lemon Grove ward members and leaders and some others in the community, Bernice had obtained food, appliances, furniture, bedding, clothing and some money to help furnish the families' apartments after they left hotels in October.
After agreeing to extend her service to a third family, Bernice adopted David and Toshika Torres, their 8-year-old son and a 6-week-old baby boy. The family moved into an apartment on Dec. 20. The baby had been born by Caesarean section, was premature, and weighed just over four pounds.
Toshika had developed an infection at the site of the incision and had to return to the hospital for several days. David and Toshika are from Alabama, but David is a welder and was working in the shipyards of New Orleans. When Katrina was looming as a major hurricane, Toshika, who was pregnant, flew to Las Vegas to stay with her sister. Then Katrina wiped out the shipyards and David, along with many other workers, was out of a job.
He made his way to San Diego in hopes of finding work here. He was able to find a job at the San Diego shipyards and was located in a hotel. Toshika then joined him, but two weeks before Christmas, he was laid off when the company was sold. Fortunately, he will return to work in January for the new company.
With the help of her Lemon Grove Ward members, Bernice got food for the Torres family from the bishop's storehouse and obtained a table, four chairs, a coffee table, shoes and clothing from Deseret Industries. She was also able to provide formula for the baby and will assist Toshika in getting help from WIC, an agency for women and infant children that will provide milk for the baby. Another source of help came from members of a local women's book group.
Kim Fahlen donated a rocking chair, and Ruth Coleman delivered twin beds for the Torres'. "My ward also just pitched in and helped me," Bernice said. "David and Juniper Riddle invited the Torres family for Christmas Day and then again for New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. The Riddles have five children.
David saw that there was enough formula for the baby to last until WIC can help. The Riddles have been just wonderful and have bonded with the family," she said. David and Toshika have been attending church in Bernice's ward and have taken two missionary lessons. Toshika bore her testimony and said that during the three months in the hotel she "nearly lost her mind."
She also cried and said they haven't been able to find some of her family since the hurricane occurred. Now in an apartment with a private telephone, she hopes to make contact with more family members. Toshika was amazed and thrilled that a group of people would provide so much help and friendship. Bernice added, "Catholic Charities paid the December and January rents for the Torres family. After that, David Torres should be working again and able pay the rent." Bernice said she has received help for the three families from her DUP camp members, who gave money and donated food for the victims. She usedthe money to help buy some Christmas gifts for the children in her three families.
A secret sister from the Lemon Grove Ward provided Christmas dinners, including large hams with all the trimmings. The dinners were delivered in decorated baskets. The Young Women in the ward made 15 lap blankets for the families, and each mother was able to pick the colors she thought her children would like.
Bernice also helped Natasha and the Torres family obtain some toys from Toys for Tots in Lemon Grove. Toys for Tots also gave baby food, new clothing, blankets and toys for the new baby. Because Althea didn't have a Christmas tree, Bernice took her to buy one and provided the lights and decorations to make the tree beautiful.
Bernice said she wanted to recognize her bishop and his wife. "Bishop James Pack and his wife Kathryn have been very supportive of me. They are the most positive, faith-promoting, encouraging people. Without their help and the help of my ward members, I could not have adopted these families."
With assistance from Bernice and her helpers, the families are moving forward. Both of the single mothers, Althea and Natasha, are planning to go back to school. Althea already has completed two years of college.
She had a job driving a bus but is now providing child care for her nephew's family. She came with this family to California, and both the nephew and his wife have jobs. Natasha hopes to work at home and is seeking grants to help her further her education.