Jodi and Randy Speidel, a couple in their mid-40s, taped a note to the front door of their one-bedroom rental home warning visitors of carbon monoxide. They let their three cats outdoors and wrote a note attesting that their next decision was a mutual one. Then, in their locked bedroom, they lit two charcoal grills and committed suicide.
The couple’s 20-year-old daughter had recently turned to gofundme.com to seek assistance for her parents, The Columbus Dispatch reported. Describing them as “the hardest-working people I know,” she wrote, “now that they literally cannot work anymore, they have nowhere to turn to.”
Chronic illnesses had forced both to stop working. They had lived without heat all winter and without water for a week. Jodi had applied for assistance and was waiting for a response. She had turned to food banks but was struggling to cook without water. They were down to $33 in savings.
Jodi herself sought help from gofundme.com and giveforward.com. She in fact signaled a little hope—writing that she had “found a job that is willing to work with my illnesses.” But she also described driving more than 30 miles “on gas fumes” and not knowing if she “would make it back home or even there.”
“I have turned in every direction possible and don’t know what else to do,” Jodi wrote. “If you can help we will be forever grateful and will even pay you back once we get back on our feet.”
One thing the Speidels apparently didn’t do was turn to their neighbors—some of whom said they would have offered help had they known of the couple’s struggles.
“We have become such a disassociated and anti-social society that we don’t even know our own neighbors,” a pastor lamented to the Dispatch, suggesting that a tighter community could have made a difference.
We don’t really know if their neighbors were in a position to provide the kind of resources the couple needed. But it’s notable that Jodi opted for the relative anonymity of reaching out online rather than turning to her neighbors. Over the years, I have heard from many people with low incomes about the shame and stigma of poverty, and how it keeps them from telling others about what they are going through.
In March, a couple of colleagues and I met with five members of Witnesses to Hunger, an advocacy organization whose members use photographs and their testimonials to document their experiences in poverty and advocate at the state, local, and federal levels for policy reform. We wanted to explore a campaign that would push back against the shaming of low-income people by the media, politicians, and other high-profile individuals, and support individuals who want to share their stories in order to educate the public and policymakers about poverty in America.