There is a cacophony inside the home Janet Bessette and Peter Ivaska share at the end of a bumpy road near conservation land.
Six conures — exotic birds — call out from the kitchen while two finches sing random melodies. Occasionally a freight train rumbles by, and many days there’s the scratching sound of pen hitting paper from the dining room table.
For about nine months there have been unpleasant sounds of sickness brought on by chemotherapy, and sometimes, for Mr. Ivaska, the sound of silence when Ms. Bessette, 61, was hospitalized a few times after her breast cancer treatments took too big a toll.
Through it all, there has been the snip, snip of scissors.
In 2011, when she saw an article in Parade, Ms. Bessette began clipping coupons for the families of troops serving overseas.
“The article was about CouponsToTroops,” she said. “So I went to the website and I signed up.”
CouponsToTroops.com matches people stateside with military families who can use coupons to cut their expenses while they are out of the country. The base exchanges allow them to use expired coupons for up to six months, and recipients are encouraged to share with other families, as well.
After her cancer diagnosis, it was one thing that didn’t require Ms. Bessette to drive or get dressed or put on her wig or exert too much energy. It also made her think about someone else, and though she isn’t one for wallowing — Mr. Ivaska said she really had just one “bad day” during her treatments — it was good to do for others as she’s always done.
“They don’t really get paid much (military families), and I know how much we can save with coupons at Stop & Shop,” she said.
Mr. Ivaska sorts through the coupons and does the shopping for his bride-to-be and then she clips and packages up what they can’t use.
So far, she’s helped three families, and they stay in touch through Facebook or snail mail even though some have returned home. She’s sent coupons — split up into “food” and “non-food” categories — to Germany, Guam and South Korea.
“One family had one child when I started and now they have two,” she said, adding that she tucked in a baby gift when she heard about the new arrival.
She’s also been on the receiving end of gifts, including a Challenge Coin from the 193rd Military Police Co., an honor reserved for those who go above and beyond. It was meant to encourage her after her diagnosis and it is prominently displayed in a scrapbook filled with cards and well-wishes.
“I cried when I got that,” she said. “It’s special to me.”
Volunteerism is something near and dear to Ms. Bessette’s heart. She’s the board secretary of the Civil War Round Table of Central Massachusetts, is a member of APICS (formerly the American Production Inventory Control Society), is first vice president of the Music Guild, secretary of the Worcester Chapter of the Massachusetts Society of Genealogists, chapter chairman of the Central Massachusetts Archaeologists Society, and secretary of Opera Worcester. She met Mr. Ivaska volunteering at the EcoTarium, and they learned they’d been crossing paths volunteering at various places, including the former Foothills Theater, before finally starting to date.
She had also been volunteering at Horizons for Homeless Children after getting laid off from her job of 26 years and then accepting a year-long position at Commonwealth Core in 2009. She stayed on as a volunteer when she couldn’t find work.
Ms. Bessette’s calendar has something listed on every date, though the entries that list radiation treatments have ended and she’s healing and raring to get back to work helping others after a few summer trips checking out battlefields in Virginia and mining in New York.
She thinks her father, Robert Bessette, might have inspired her because he was active in the American Legion in Hardwick, where she grew up.
“He did the Halloween party for the kids,” she said, and he was part of the first rescue squad when he served as a part-time police officer.
When he died in 2009, a line in his obituary read, “He had a long career of volunteerism and community service.”
He was a technical sergeant in the Army Air Corps, served as a radio operator-gunner on a B-29 in World War II and participated in the invasion of Normandy — things Ms. Bessette, a history lover, appreciates.
It may also be the reason why she and Mr. Ivaska, her fiancé, spend time writing letters to soldiers who are at boot camp or deployed, and why she can’t seem to pass up the chance to help a military family.
Her dad would be proud of her coupon clipping and would probably laugh if he could see the stacks of shopping fliers her friends and his wife, Jeannette, pass along to her each week.
Sometime she groans when she sees them piled high, but when she sets to work her smile returns, especially when she can convince someone else to start clipping, too.
“I would encourage anyone to do it,” she said. “I would encourage anyone to volunteer.”
As seen in the telegram.com