Woman with kidney disease recycles items, good deeds

Last modified: Friday, December 25, 2015
In between sorting bags of clothes, Martha Seigars had to stop. Her blood sugar dipped, and she needed some juice and a cookie.

After a quick break in the Friends of Forgotten Children kitchen, Seigars rolled up her sleeves to go back to work. On one arm, white bandages covered the area where she’s hooked up to a dialysis machine three days a week.

“This is my badge of courage,” she said.

Seigars, 68, is used to making the best of things. A lifelong yard sale and thrift store shopper and recycler, the Boscawen resident is distinct in her style: sparkling silver and gold shoes, flower pins carefully arranged in her hair, bright-yellow sunglasses perched on her head and a flashy necklace to accompany her shirt and leggings. She wore a zebra-patterned jacket, too.

“She’s the ‘blingy’ girl,” said Friends of Forgotten Children Director Cheryl Correllus.

“I’m all for secondhand,” Seigars said last week. “I grew up in a family of 16 kids – everything we had was recycled.”

So when Friends of Forgotten Children in Concord held a rummage sale over the summer, Seigars was there. She had just finished recuperating from quadruple bypass heart surgery after her kidneys failed and was nearing the end of a legal saga involving her former investment broker, who swindled her and at least five others out of hundreds of thousands of dollars through a Ponzi scheme. Seigars had planned to use her investment – $90,000 – to pay for a kidney transplant.

At the rummage sale, Seigars said, “They had an overwhelming amount of clothing and donations and stuff. I was treated with dignity and respect. I said, ‘Oh, I’d love to do this and come volunteer.’ ”

For the past six months, Seigars’s schedule has alternated between dialysis on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, volunteering Tuesdays and Thursdays, and on the weekends, more yard-saling.

On dialysis days, she said, it’s tough to do anything else. “I go in at about 11:15 and I don’t get off the machine until 3 o’clock. The last hour, I don’t know why – it seems to be when I’m totally drained, and then I’m no good for the rest of the day.”

“But,” Seigars added, “come morning, I’m good again.”

Seigars does get help – her niece cleans her home and does heavy lifting when needed. Seigars’s husband, Peter, “is my biggest supporter,” she said, and he often drives her to and from dialysis treatments.

On her good days, Seigars usually sits and sorts bags of donated clothes at Friends of Forgotten Children, a nonprofit that sees about 500 people per month for clothes, food and other items.

“It’s just been a lifesaver for me to come here and have something meaningful to do,” Seigars said. “Nobody is looked down on, nobody is humiliated. We’re here to help and always have a smile on our faces. I’m so dependent on other people for my quality of life – I thought I would give back here.”

Seigars gives back elsewhere, too. She sews blankets for the SPCA, and she also brings lost ones there.

“I live in a trailer park, and there’s a lot of stray cats,” Seigars said. “If they’re feral, they find homes on farms for them.”

She volunteers for the Boscawen parks and recreation program, too, donating games and toys she finds at yard sales. In the summer, Seigars donates money for an ice cream party.

This time of year, Seigars is giving a lot of her time to Friends of Forgotten Children. Last week, she went through the nonprofit’s pantry for baking items – she planned to make 10 different kinds of cookie dough for a holiday party the charity is going to provide at the Briar Pipe assisted living residence in Penacook.

In between baking and volunteering, Seigars also drove a friend to and from the hospital last Tuesday.

When asked why she does all of this despite having kidney disease and all that comes along with it, Seigars said she does it because she wants to.

“I need to feel useful – I need to feel productive,” Seigars said while sipping her orange juice and munching on her cookie. Before her heart surgery, she drove a school bus for Concord School District for seven years.

“It was my retirement job,” she said. “I’ve worked all my life, since I was in high school. I’m a very active person – I can’t stay home on my couch doing nothing. This is the way I live my life.”

Seigars especially enjoys sorting through donated items, knowing they’ll go to good use somewhere else.

“It’s just in my blood to recycle and go through other people’s junk, and it becomes our treasures,” she said.

Seigars added, “I just feel that I have a purpose coming here – that I’m needed. The people who also work here are wonderful.”

The feeling is mutual. Correllus said of Seigars: “She gets a joy out of it. (And) it gives her a chance to dress up – we all love her here.”

(Elodie Reed can be reached at 369-3306, ereed@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @elodie_reed.)