With the fall of the economy, millions of Americans have found themselves struggling or unable to pay for unexpected healthcare. The floor covering industry is no exception. Insurers are raising rates and cutting benefits. The result is that when catastrophe strikes, those who survive may not survive the financial impact.

A 47-year veteran of the floor covering industry, Linda Crowe worked as an executive secretary in the finance department at Shaw Industries. During a routine breast exam in 2001, Crowe’s doctor discovered two knots in her left breast. Crowe underwent surgery, in which 19 of her lymph nodes were removed - all proved to be cancerous. Crowe endured 12 chemotherapy treatments and 33 treatments of radiation. Miraculously, her cancer was eradicated.

Then in March 2008, testing of her bone marrow revealed that her cancer had metastasized or spread to her bones. Her neurologist told her that her autoimmune system was breaking down her brain tissue. The doctors sent her home with hospice care. They gave her 1 to 3 years to live. Although Crowe had excellent health coverage through Shaw, she was still responsible for paying 20% of each bill. Her first bill was $300,000.00.

A similar tragedy struck Gary Mount. A truck driver for Mohawk Flooring, the 44-year old father of three from Columbus, Ohio, decided to enjoy a motorcycle ride in October 2007. As he entered an intersection, a vehicle waiting to turn left suddenly accelerated - and drove right into him. As he was rolled into an ambulance, Mount was told that at the moment of impact, his left foot was on the ground near his floorboard. The force of the car hitting his bike caused his foot to sever from the limb. His left foot was gone.

Doctors had little choice but to amputate Mount’s left leg from the knee down. They discovered that upon impact, his leg bone had also shot up his hip and shattered it. As a result, a titanium plate with nine screws was inserted - the first of many hip surgeries Mount would have to bear.

Mount had no health insurance. The woman who hit him was practically penniless and had only the minimum auto insurance coverage. And without his left leg, Mount could no longer earn a living driving a truck.

Don Berman was a 40-year old vice president of a successful Midwest carpet wholesaler when he was diagnosed with severe depression. Don’s performance at work suffered from his illness and his sales dropped. His employer had little choice but to let him go.

Don’s wife of many years proved incapable of coping and served him with divorce papers - which Don signed without even realizing what they were. Falsely blaming him for his condition, she took everything Don had worked decades to save.

For two years, Don had no job, no money and no credit cards. He moved in with his elderly parents. He refused to speak - communicating only through facial expressions. To say he felt sheer embarrassment would be an understatement. With no savings and no earnings, Don had nowhere to turn for help.

All three of these floor covering industry professionals found themselves in severe and unexpected physical, emotional and financial distress. And like hundreds of their colleagues, each of them sought and received aid from the Floor Covering Industry Foundation (FCIF).

Founded in 1980 by several prominent industry figures, led by the late Walter Guinan, the FCIF is dedicated to financially assisting floor covering industry professionals who experience catastrophic illness, severe disabilities or other life-altering hardships. These philanthropic efforts are accomplished with compassion, confidentiality and preservation of dignity for the individuals concerned. The beneficiaries mentioned in this article each gave permission to tell their stories to assist in promoting awareness of the Foundation.

The Foundation’s criteria for grants are catastrophic medical/mental illness or severe disabilities and financial need. Grants are awarded on the basis of need for such expenses as medical care, medications, medical supplies and other expenses related to beneficiary/living care. Grants may be given for a specific medical procedure or for ongoing therapy. No loans are given.

This assistance program is funded through private donations and endowments, corporate contributions and bequests. The Distribution Committee and staff executives administer the assistance grant program. Funds may be awarded on a one-time, specific procedure basis or as a monthly stipend. Grant amounts are based on documentation of financial need, disbursed at the discretion of the Distribution Committee of the Foundation’s Board of Directors.

Since the Foundation depends on charitable contributions from industry employees, companies, manufacturers and industry associations, the amount of assistance that can be provided, as well as the number of beneficiaries who can be helped, is determined by the availability of funds. Because of this, there may come a time where it may be necessary to place an approved beneficiary on a waiting list until funds become available. Approved applicants are funded on a first-come, first-served basis. The Distribution Committee meets at least every 60 days to review recent applications.

Behind every one of the FCIF’s assistance grants is a story of crisis and perseverance - of a real person, like Linda, Gary and Don, struggling through a difficult time in their lives. The FCIF’s caring approach allows those in need to seek help with the goal of keeping unexpected setbacks from turning into permanent roadblocks.

Beneficiaries have included a 29-year-old who was paralyzed from the neck down as the result of a hit-and-run accident; transplant (heart, liver) patients; a single parent’s two-year old son who had a malignant tumor and required chemotherapy and continuing tests for cancer; and a man who suffered a brain stem stroke at the age of 38 and was incapacitated with severe physical and cognitive impairment.

Any applicant or immediate family member, who has derived his or her primary income from employment in the floor covering business for at least five years, may qualify for assistance. The applicant or immediate family member must be in extreme financial need – with other sources such as family assistance, medical insurance and disability insurance depleted.

Ongoing contributions and endowments to the FCIF have been made by The Alan Greenberg Memorial Fund, Shaw Industries, The Stacey Ann Boe Memorial Fund, The William A. Gold Endowment, and the Andrew “Jack” Paton Memorial Fund.

A partial listing of Corporate Donors include CCA Global Partners, Inc., Mohawk Industries and World Floor Covering Association (Diamond/$50,000+ per year); Mannington Mills and Shaw Industries (Platinum/$25,000 - $49,000 per year); Armstrong, Congoleum Corporation, and  Hanley-Wood Exhibitions (Gold/$10,000 - $24,999 per year); Beaulieu of America, and Resilient Floor Covering Institute (Silver/$5,000 - $9,999 per year); and Bayard Sales, Long Island Floor Covering Association, Surface Art and Stanton Carpet Corporation (Bronze/$2,000 - $4,999 per year). There also is a significant list of individual donors who contribute regularly to the Foundation.

Since it’s founding, the FCIF has granted more than $1.5 million to help those in need. Beneficiaries include retailers, installers, retail salespeople, distributor personnel, mill employees and executives. Financial help is viewed as an opportunity to say, “we care” to those in our industry.

For more information on the Floor Covering Industry Foundation or to help members of our industry family cope with life-altering hardships, please visitwww.fcif.org, or contact Connie Buda, FCIF Executive Administrator at (714) 634-0302.