- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 25, 2014

HAZLETON, Pa. (AP) - Two travelers stranded in a strange town found answered prayers and love in Greater Hazleton during an exhaustive journey.

Linda Salisburg and Stephen Bell, from Conway, N.H., knew each other for 20 years but fell in love decades later. They both grew up in New Hampshire and married in 2009 but a 2012 fire destroyed all their possessions. This winter they decided it was time to move to warmer weather in Florida with their poodle, Mandy, and yellow lab, Lindsey. They loaded up their recreational vehicle and hooked up Salisburg’s car to it before taking off with their savings.

What they found were numerous breakdowns caused by a faulty fuse in the RV every time they hit a bump on the road.

In Connecticut, their disabled vehicle cost them money they saved - $1,300 for a tow truck and then money to repair it. They stayed the night in Salisburg’s vehicle because it was the only way they could get heat. However, the car’s battery died, Bell said. Both were repaired after the couple sold what little they had to a pawn shop as their social security checks hadn’t come in yet. Believing the mechanical problem was fixed, they drove off in their RV, but they didn’t get far. The vehicle, upon hitting other bumps in the road, broke down multiple times again, including the last breakdown in Greater Hazleton.

“It’s like Murphy’s Law descended upon us,” Bell said.

They broke down on Interstate 81 in Greater Hazleton and were towed by Falzone’s - who didn’t charge them after hearing their story - back to their company’s lot in Drums, where Bell was able to get the RV moving again. Then they broke down on state Route 93, near the Comfort Inn in Sugarloaf Township. Falzone’s again towed them, this time to Wal-Mart in Hazle Township, Salisburg said.

Unable to pay for repairs and unable to receive assistance because they are not residents, Bell and Salisburg and their two canine pals were stranded for weeks but found comfort at the hands of strangers, including Wal-Mart employees who checked on them routinely.

They were still beached at Wal-Mart during the last week of February when Bell spotted a young woman and man walking through the cold parking lot. He asked them if she needed a ride somewhere, telling them that they were stranded and had time to offer them. They brought the pair, only known as Elizabeth and Jose to their destination at the Laurel Mall but the couple who Bell and Salisburg helped ended up returning the favor.

Bell said Elizabeth’s mother began a Facebook page to make people aware of Bell and Salisburg’s hard time in the hopes someone could help them. Elizabeth told the couple it wasn’t long ago that she needed help and people provided that for her and she wanted to return the favor.

Salisburg had been praying and crying, begging God for help to get them back on their journey one night after meeting Elizabeth and Jose.

“We were lost,” she said, and out of options.

Around 7:30 a.m. the next day, she said, a loud “hardy” knock sounded at the RV’s door and they were greeted by Era Gould, a local volunteer fireman, who said he heard their story on Facebook and wanted to help them repair their RV after work.

In the freezing cold for hours, Bell said, Gould and two others helped repair the RV. “He said he wasn’t going to leave this parking lot without getting us going,” Bell said, while Salisburg’s eyes filled with tears of joy. The problem ended up being a $2 part that was causing a short, Bell said.

“Where is God in all this?” Bell asked before answering, “that Tuesday night last week, Linda really prayed hard for someone to help us or give us direction.”

The same goes for the countless others that helped the couple. After their story was posted on the Internet, a lot of people responded, bringing them food, cash and gift cards.

“It was unreal,” Salisburg said. They were treated to local foods, like the cabbage dish, halupki, cold deli pizza, which Salisburg said, “was to die for,” along with coffee and cream puffs made in Pennsylvania.

People even brought treats for their dogs. A girl as young as 9 brought them a letter, coffee and snacks. Salisburg said she is keeping the letter as a memento of their trip.

Then a woman, who lost her husband in January stopped by with her young son. She told them she bought them a two-night stay at the Comfort Inn, not far away from Wal-Mart to show her son how it can lift your own spirits to do something nice for others.

It’s heartwarming, the couple said, to see that there are still people in the world who care.

“It’s not what they bring, it’s that they came in the first place,” Salisburg said.

Bell and Salisburg are acquainted with helping others in New Hampshire. Bell trained service dogs and ended up keeping one of them, Lindsey. Salisburg helped out people in other ways throughout her life but never thought they’d be on the receiving end.

“This community truly has a lot to offer. There is a strong community spirit alive and well in Hazleton,” Bell said. He said from watching and reading local news he understands the area has its problems, but he wanted people to know that they shouldn’t give up hope because there is still good in town.

“We want these people to know that we see it. We recognize it and we appreciate it. They are special. They are needed in every community,” Bell said.

From the comfort and warmth of their hotel, Salisburg said, a doctor’s appointment today will dictate when the couple can leave and continue on their way, but they are hoping to leave Tuesday or Wednesday and planning to stop in North Carolina to visit one of Salisburg’s two sons.

Salisburg said they will bring a piece of Hazleton with them throughout their travels.

“And this trip isn’t over yet,” she said laughing.

Though the breakdowns were inconvenient, scary and frustrating and at times had them close to giving up faith, Salisburg said she is glad it happened.

“If we didn’t have problems we wouldn’t have seen the love,” she said.

Sometimes in life, she said, people have to be “brought to their knees” to see the love in others.

“The way things happened in Pennsylvania, it’s just meant to be.”





Information from: Standard-Speaker, https://www.standardspeaker.com

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