Retired Air Force Tech. Sgt. Sebastian Lopez Barcelo was in crisis mode in March. As the COVID-19 pandemic caused shut-downs and stay-at-home orders, Uber drivers and freelancers like Sebastian quickly felt the impact. He began thinking of what possessions he could start selling.
“I drive Uber and I do freelance graphic design,” said Sebastian, who lives in Valrico, Florida with his wife and their two daughters. “I can’t make money because I can’t drive.
”The loss of funds compounded the financial strain that began last year when the family experienced several medical issues. One of his daughters, who is special needs, was hospitalized with a blood cancer scare. They have been paying co-pays, co-insurance and medical bills since then. Both of his teen daughters also needed to get glasses.
Then, in April, Sebastian called the VA because he was feeling sick and even had symptoms that appeared to be a stroke and the same as COVID-19. He was tested for COVID-19, given an MRI and a CAT scan. Results were negative for COVID but he did have a respiratory infection. The stroke symptoms turned out to be Bell’s Palsy. And on top of all of that, his car needed emergency repairs.
All of this stress weighed even heavier on Sebastian as funds dried up and two months passed without paying the mortgage. For Sebastian, who spent 22 years serving his country, including at least seven deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Kurdistan and Saudi Arabia, not being able to provide for his family took him to a dark place, emotionally.
He recalled Operation Homefront (OH) from a resource list he got when he retired from the Air Force in 2018. He applied to the Critical Financial Assistance (CFA) program, and thanks to OH’s generous donors, they were able to help him pay more than $3,400 in mortgage and utility payments for April and an auto payment of about $340 in May.
“What (Operation Homefront) did for me, I just don’t have words,” Sebastian said. “I don’t know how to say thanks enough. Operation Homefront and your donors took my stress level from a rollercoaster ride to total relief, at least for this month. My house is paid up and I’m not going to be charged late fees. The electricity and water are paid off, and our internet bill too, so the kids can have their school work done. I Just want to say thank you for everything. I don’t have any words for what that means to me.”