So many people want to help Lynn Schutzman that their kindness has to be parceled out and managed: If you want to bring her food, how about ham and cheese on Thursday?
Others are supplying pretty much anything else you can think of.
Schutzman, 69, a former pharmacist whose life broke apart after a calamitous run of bad fortune, had been living with her two dogs in her 2007 Mercedes ML 350 in various spots around King of Prussia over the last two years.
Two local women — one of them a pharmacist herself — discovered Schutzman, a widow with no children, on April 25 in the parking lot of a Target store, and vowed to help her.
What’s happened since has been a cascade of goodwill and good works. It’s not only the giving that impresses, but also Schutzman’s willingness to accept it, a capitulation that occurred only after the proud woman decided to finally shove aside embarrassment and allow her community to do right by her.
“People love this story,” said Melissa Akacha, 38, the pharmacist who with her neighbor Jennifer Elsier, 44, a medical social worker, first encountered Schutzman.
“Isn’t it mind-blowing?” Elsier asked.
On Wednesday morning, Schutzman and the two women lounged in the $1,195-a-month studio apartment they’d found for her in King of Prussia.
Last Friday, they signed the lease. On Saturday, 14 people invaded the space and remade it — painting (the bathroom is now periwinkle blue), decorating, hauling in donated furniture, and in some cases turning down a largess excess that included five televisions and enough dog food to feed a kennel.
Although Schutzman had seen the place before moving in last Saturday, she hadn’t known that Akacha and Elsier had furnished the apartment and coordinated the move-in. Schutzman’s smiles and tears are captured in a video taken in the first seconds of her entering the newly created home.
“You guys make me cry,” Schutzman texted to Akacha and Elsier afterward. "I want you to know I now know what if feels like to have children. You are my family now, and I will always have your back.”
A still-accruing GoFundMe site registered $27,380 as of Wednesday morning. Elsier alone controls the cash, mindful of past scams. She supplies site managers with receipts and assurances that all is above board.
Tastefully decorated — “It’s crazy you had a dozen women agreeing on where things went,” Akacha said — the place has just four things from Schutzman’s car: two pictures of her dogs and two framed items related to her apothecary past.
Most important is a Norman Rockwell print of a pharmacist, a gift Schutzman never got to give to her husband, Norman, also a pharmacist, for their 23rd anniversary in 1996. He died of an aortic aneurysm.
After his death, Schutzman suffered a series of illnesses, including the early stages of kidney failure, breast cancer, intense leg and feet problems, and a two-month coma.
Medical bills and other complex events ruined her finances, and she moved from a 4,000-square-foot house to an apartment, then to her car, whose dashboard and headrests were chewed up by her beagle and her sheltie. She lives on about $2,000 in Social Security payments.
Schutzman and her helping angels say that community service workers tell them she makes too much money to be granted subsidized housing. And she won’t live in shelters, which prohibit dogs.
For the rent, Schutzman will pay $800 monthly, and Elsier will use the donated funds to pay the rest. The hope is that the money will last at least two years, which is the length of a waiting list Schutzman is on for housing in Norristown that allows seniors who make $50,000 or less annually to pay a rent of $665 a month.
Elsier said that if the women have their way, Schutzman won’t ever leave King of Prussia.
“We found her a place in town because we wanted to keep her close,” said Elsier, who explained that she and Akacha are already fighting over who gets to host Schutzman for Christmas.
“Plus, King of Prussia is where Lynn grew up, and that’s where her new family is now,” Elsier said. She added, “We couldn’t have asked for more from our community. A friend said, ‘When I walk in Lynn’s apartment, all I see is love.’ ”
In the last week or so, a medical group, which is honoring Schutzman at a banquet this Saturday, is giving her free online access to advice on nutrition and other topics. A dentist is offering free services.
For the dogs, Chase and Chaucer, a veterinarian’s office will give free shots and yearly exams, while a grooming business will offer free services for the rest of their lives. Local Girl Scouts are divvying up times to walk the dogs.
Meanwhile, Schutzman’s old friends, classmates, colleagues, and pharmacy customers have reached out, ending conversations with her with the same phrase: “Whatever you need.”
Others are texting Akacha in various levels of melancholy and guilt. “People say, ‘I’m crying because I saw her at Target and drove past without helping.’ ”
That doesn’t upset Schutzman, who said that until April 25, she wasn’t open to assistance. There was something about that night — she had just 40 cents left and the car was out of gas, and there was no way to drive to a nearby park to collect water for the dogs from fountains.
“It was the lowest point of my life, rock bottom,” Schutzman said. “I knew if I didn’t get help, I’d have to surrender the dogs, and that would be it for me. Somebody would have found me dead in the car.”
Schutzman said she’ll be everlastingly grateful to Akacha and Elsier, and always be glad that she finally allowed concerned strangers into her guarded life.
“You know, there are more and more seniors, and maybe some without spouses or children to help,” Schutzman said. “There are going to be more of us living in cars. People think, ‘That could be me.’ We’ll need help.