Elderly couple lives on meager income, collecting cans and food from trash dumpsters to get by

The Peterson’s often check the dumpster behind a nearby grocery store to gather food that has been thrown out. “You used to be able to buy a piece of ham for a dollar,” Herman said. “ You can’t get anything for a dollar anymore.”
Each day Herman Peterson slowly makes his way from one dumpster to the next at the Ponderosa Apartments looking for aluminum cans to sell and scrapes of food for their pet dog. An Army veteran with shrapnel permanently lodged in his right leg, he has difficulty walking.
Mr. Peterson suffers from several disabilities, many of which are a result of his career with the U.S. Army, where he served more than five years. “The doctor wants to give him a head X-ray (CAT scan),” Mrs. Peterson said. “It’s going to be hard to rake up money to take him to the VA hospital. We don’t have a car or money to stay there with.”
Dollie Peterson helps her husband Herman stand as he rises from the couch in their small apartment. Married for 43 years, the two have stood together through difficult times before.

“We manage to pick up about $15 a month collecting cans, and Meals-on-Wheels brings us our lunch three times a week.”
“Herman doesn’t walk real good,” she said. So often times when her husband goes out, Mrs. Peterson collects cans too. Herman searches the dumpsters at the Ponderosa apartment complex where the two reside. “We have to do it to make ends meet,” Mrs. Peterson said.

“If you don’t have the money, you can make almost anything you need with what you already have,” Mr. Peterson said. “Neighbors don’t help each other like they used to,” he added. “I guess time changes things, but what makes a person is heart and mind.” The couple gets by with what they have, Mr. Peterson says. “If you ain’t got no money, you can’t help it. It’s not all milk and honey. I’ll put it that way.”

NOTE: As a couple of young college journalism students, Carrie Stiles and I didn’t mention in the story that the Peterson’s relied on digging through dumpsters for food, out of fear we might cause embarrassment. The original story ran in our college newspaper in 1989. Nearly 20 years later, as I post this story on the internet, it’s important to bring up that aspect of the story. I’m sure the Peterson’s story isn’t unique. It’s one story of thousands, perhaps millions about people living in poverty in America.