MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - Days before Thanksgiving, an elderly Memphis woman already has a great deal to be thankful for this year. Her power was cut-off for non-payment after she was the victim of scam. Generosity from a kind-hearted Memphis firefighter and members of the community restored the woman's power, and her hope.
82-year-old Sade Rossell thought she was helping a homeless woman. She opened her home to her, gave her a place to sleep, and gave her money to pay the utility bill. The problem was, the woman pocketed the money, skipped town and left Rossell with a $2,000 MLGW bill.
"I trusted her because she was good," Rossell tells abc24.com. "I got up, the front door was open, back door was open, she was gone and I hadn't seen her since then."
Then, things got worse.
"I got this light bill," Rossell says, "and the man came and cut the lights off and cut the wires. I said Lord, have mercy. I asked why was he cutting it off. He said I hadn't paid my bill. I told him the girl paid the bill for me."
Rossell gets one $700 check each month and had no way to pay to get her power reconnected. She takes care of her nephew, and she says the two went into survival mode.
"I got a grill out there in the back and we pulled it in the house," says Rossell. "We would cook on it and get the house warm."
When it got dark, Rossell lit candles.
"I burned candles," she says shrugging. "The candles burned so fast, it's pitiful. And we went to bed early. We had to go to bed early."
That was the only place she could stay warm.
"I stayed in bed with covers on me is all I could do," she says.
Memphis Chief Fire Marshall Ronald Brown was given a tip one day. An old woman, he was told, was heating her house with a charcoal grill. Brown went to Rossell's home to find out what was going on.
Rossell says when Brown arrived he asked why she didn't have lights turned on.
"I told him I don't have any," she says. "The light company cut them off."
Brown removed the grill, but realized that left Sade without a way to heat her house. He and the director of Community Enhancement, Johnie McKay, took matters into their own hands. They paid for Rossell to stay in a hotel until they could get MLGW to turn her power back on.
"When I looked at Miss Rossell," Brown tells abc24.com, "I thought, this could be my mother, my own mother, and if it were my own mother, would I walk away and leave her in a house thats cold and dark? No, I wouldn't do that."
The hotel was a welcome bright spot for Rossell's dark days.
"The heat was turned on," she laughs. "You know it was, honey. I was glad to have lights and bright lights, bright city. I was really glad it was on."
While Rossell was at the hotel, MLGW staff worked to get funding to help get her power bill lowered. Money was donated from United Way, Shelby County CSA and several local churches, cutting the bill in half.
After four days in a motel, Rossell was able to go home and turn the lights on again.
"I sure do appreciate it," she says of the kindness shown to her. "I appreciate it to the highest because I was glad to get back in this dirty house. You know you feel better at home than you do in a motel somewhere."
She's thankful for that motel and thankful for the men who helped her get warm.
"I'm going to hug him, hug him, so help me, I will," she says. "I told him, is there anything I can do to show how I appreciate you? I appreciate them, they were real nice. Real nice."
MLGW took a few charges off her bill because of the scam. They also set up a payment plan for the remainder of the bill.
Memphis firefighters say it is never safe to have a grill inside your home.
MLGW says safety is their number one concern. The utility asks that anyone having problems making their payments contact them as soon as possible.