Debesa has nothing but praise for her $8.20-an-hour job at Pollo Tropical, where an understanding manager allows Carolina to sit and wait for her mother every afternoon and every Saturday. Regular customers know Carolina, Debesa said; one of them gave Debesa a Powerball ticket earlier this week.
But Debesa, who staffs the eatery’s drive-through line, doesn’t know how she will make ends meet once her hours get cut.
Her current take-home pay is about $285 a week. Carolina receives Social Security payments for people with disabilities, and food stamps. Debesa’s landlord recently lowered her rent by $50 to $750 a month.
What they can’t afford and need the most, Debesa said, is a new queen-sized mattress for her and Carolina to share. Their existing mattress is about 25 years old, Debesa estimated.
Metallic springs have cut through the top of the sagging mattress, which Debesa covers with two sets of sheets and a blanket so Carolina doesn’t get hurt. A hole on the edge of the stained mattress is covered with clear masking tape.
“And the other side is worse,” Debesa said, noting that Carolina used to be incontinent.
The mattress needs to be queen-sized, to fit Debesa’s bed frame. She doesn’t have room for a second, separate bed for Carolina.
Carolina could also use some new clothes (Hello Kitty is a favorite), in size 16 or XL for teens. Debesa long ago stopped being able to afford the pricey orthopedic shoes doctors recommended for her daughter. And Debesa would benefit from gas cards to help her pay to drive to and from work in Sunny Isles Beach.
Carolina, who likes to listen to the radio and dance to salsa music, wanted a Christmas tree, too. But Debesa took that wish into her own hands: She went to Publix and bought a small coffee-table decoration shaped like a tree.
And Carolina was happy.