- Associated Press - Saturday, May 13, 2017

GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) - Despite weekly bouts of chemotherapy, a Gulfport man has been doing his best to raise money for the widow of a Saucier man killed in a freak accident just weeks before Christmas.

Fred Yelzerton, who owns Furniture Liquidators on Pass Road and already is a cancer survivor, is now fighting to make sure the cancer doesn’t spread. But for the last five months, he has been raising money for someone he’s never met.

Yelzerton said he was moved by a December story in the Sun Herald about a man who died after a truck fell on top of him. Chendo Arroyo, 40, died Dec. 4, as he was attempting to make repairs to his truck, something he often did without incident, when the jack slipped and fell.

Arroyo left behind three children and a wife of 19 years.

After the Sun Herald story published, the family benefited from an outpouring of support from the community. A friend of the family set up a GoFundMe page, but many older members of the community said they weren’t familiar with the computer application or were uncertain that their donations would go where they should.

Still wanting to help, Yelzerton fashioned a coffee can into a makeshift donation box. After taping a copy of the original Sun Herald story and Christmas wrapping paper to the can, he sliced open a slot for donations and placed a sign that read: “Arroyo Family Donations: Please give to the family.” Next to that is a paper Christian cross with the verse from Luke 2:9-12 in the Bible: “And the glory of the Lord shone round about them.”

Last Tuesday, Arroyo’s widow, Jamie, met Yelzerton at his shop in person. Yelzerton promised he would match whatever amount is donated by the community to the Arroyo family. Jamie Arroyo then gave Yelzerton an update of how she and the family have been dealing with the loss of their husband, father and provider.

Put on a strong face

Although she has tried to put on a strong face for her three children and others since her husband’s death, when she is alone at night, she often breaks down, Jamie Arroyo said.

After the accident she told the Sun Herald, “I was inside cooking supper. He (Chendo) was outside for not more than 10 minutes. I looked over toward the truck and saw his legs with the whole truck on top. I never heard a sound,” she said.

She said the image still haunts her.

“Everyone keeps telling me you’re so strong, you’re so strong,” she said. “I don’t see it. They’re not there at night when I can’t sleep because of what I saw, the vision. That image is still burned into my brain. I can’t get it out.”

She noted her husband’s kindness and sacrifice, even in death. An organ donor, Jamie said doctors were able to use Arroyo’s corneas, heart valves and lower extremities. She said she is aware of two medical recipients.

“He would give his shirt off his back to anyone, a complete stranger,” she said. “We’re thankful that in our tragedy, something good has come out of it for someone else.”

Jamie wears a locket with some of Arroyo’s ashes in it. A friend of hers plans to travel to Mexico this summer, where Arroyo’s mother and relatives live, and deliver an urn for them.

“I wear my locket with me everywhere, even when I’m sleeping. It always reminds me of him. I thought we should do the same for his mother,” she said.

Yelzerton said - that from his own experience - he understands.

“I wore by Dad’s watch for like 15 years after he died. It was really just a cheap watch, in fact the face fell off. But it was a reminder of him. That was important to me,” he said.

‘It gets better’

Yelzerton hopes news of the donation box will spread in the community. He apologized for not being able to meet for an interview the previous Friday. Doctors are trying to prevent the spread of skin cancer.

“I had cancer and it came back. We had thought it was in remission,” he said. “Doctors are trying to keep it from moving. If it moves, you can pretty much count your days when that happens.”

“Obviously, I don’t want that to happen. I’ve got things to do,” he said. “I’ve got tomatoes,” he quipped. “I want to see them grow.”

Still, Yelzerton was quick to switch focus back to Jamie to offer her support. Looking back to when he first read the story of Arroyo’s death, he said:

“It’s a hell of a story. It’s sad. I’ve lost family, brothers, my dad. Anytime you lose family members, it’s like losing a part of you, a piece of you dies each time. I know exactly how she feels,” Yelzerton said.

“I know you’re having a rough time,” he said, looking Jamie in the eyes. “I can tell. It gets better. It’ll come around.”

The donation box is on the service desk at his shop at 2114 Pass Road. Anyone can donate.

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