They packed their bags, sold their car and moved to a new duty station. They did what many families do, bought a new car and purchased the household necessities they would need. Then their child was diagnosed with leukemia, they had to move again for the second time in less than two months. The car and items had to be sold and bought anew. They were in debt and didn’t know where to turn.
It’s what happened to Staff Sgt. Trinity A. Lizalde, embark chief for Headquarters and Service Battalion, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific, and his family.
On Nov. 9, 2007 his son, Diego, a toddler at the time, was diagnosed with the life threatening disease after being in Okinawa, Japan, for six weeks. Without a pediatric oncologist on hand, his family had to move to Hawaii to save his son’s life.
After four months of intensive chemotherapy, Diego went into remission. But, the pile of debt the Lizalde’s had accumulated while at their son’s bedside and having to buy and sell their car within such a short period, left the family in a tough spot.
That was when Lizalde called the Navy Marine Corps Relief Society.
The NMCRS is a non-profit organization that works with the Navy and Marine Corps to collect donations and help Marines, Sailors and their families if they find themselves in financial need.
This year the relief society has helped thousands of service members with everything from an emergency vehicle repair payment, food, rent, funeral expenses and unforeseen family emergencies providing more than eight million dollars in support, according to MartyAnn Grant, Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Kaneohe Bay, NMCRS Office director.
“My son got sick and all my attention was on making sure my kid was OK,” Lizalde, MarForPac’s NMCRS battalion coordinator said. “I wasn’t worried about the bills. Either my wife or I were always by his side while the other took care of getting food or running errands. The Corps was taking care of my son but living in a hospital caused the expenses to pile up. When it was all over we had this pile of debt and the relief society helped.”
Lizalde is just one of thousands of Marine and Sailors the society helps each year. When he came to the society, he expected them to help with maybe a few hundred dollars to pay off a bill or two. But he left with a check to pay off more than 50 percent of his debt.
This year’s NMCRS fund drive is currently underway and scheduled to end April 9 for MarForPac Marines and Sailors. It was donations from Marines and Sailors that made it possible to help the Lizalde family when extenuating circumstances could have left the family financially crippled. Continued donations ensures the society can continue to help.
“It’s important for folks to realize that if every Sailor and every Marine gave five dollars a month, it would make a big difference,” Grant said. “A little goes a long way. It truly is your organization and your contributions go toward providing interest-free loans and grants to help your fellow Sailors and Marines.”
After the society helped him, Lizalde became an advocate for the organization and works to educate the Marines and Sailors in his command, hoping their donations can help others like him.
“When I was a young Marine, I didn’t see the point in donating,” Lizalde said. “I thought like every other young person does, ‘that will never happen to me.’ Now, I know better. Ever since boot camp we are taught to take care of our own. That’s what we’re doing when we donate to the relief society and donating to them is an investment in yourself as well. You don’t worry about emergencies until they happen to you. Life happens and the relief society is there for you when life happens.”
This year’s goal is to achieve100 percent contact unit-wide, with representatives in each section to collect donations. Lizalde’s experience has impassioned him to help support the society and asks every Marine to give what they can.
“If it wasn’t for the Marine Corps and organizations like the relief society, I’d probably be working three jobs right now,” Lizalde said. “I think to myself what life would be like right now if we didn’t have the relief society and I’m thankful we did.”
Service members interested in contributing can contact the NMCRS K-Bay Office year round at (808) 257-1972.
Diego, now four, is doing well and his leukemia is still in remission.