Karen Schutzman had been living in her car for several years after the death of her husband a medical crisis

By Rachel DeSantis
November 14, 2019 02:50 PM

When Jennifer Husband-Elsier and friend Melissa Akacha noticed an elderly woman was living in her car in a Pennsylvania Target parking lot, they took it upon themselves to rally their community behind her.

Their efforts have paid off in a big way: thanks to the generosity of strangers, the woman, 70-year-old Lynn Schutzman, was recently able to move into a studio apartment with her two dogs in tow.

“It wouldn’t have happened without these angels,” Schutzman told ABC News.

The life-changing journey for Schutzman began in April, when Husband-Elsier first took notice of her living situation in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.

She quickly took to the app Nextdoor, alerting the community that police said Schutzman had been living in her car for more than two years.

“It’s an awful scenario. Really, really upsetting,” she wrote, adding that she and Akacha had approached Schutzman and asked how she was doing because they wanted to help.

They soon learned her story, which began with Schutzman’s career as a well-respected and happily married pharmacist.

Things took a turn, however, when her husband Norman died suddenly at just 47, and Schutzman suffered a series of strokes caused by a bacterial infection shortly after, WBUR News reported.

RELATED VIDEO: How a Homeless Mom of 2 Beat Addiction and Now Helps Thousands Going Through the Same Battles

Ten years later, in 2011, she suffered another series of medical setbacks, including breast cancer, thyroid issues and kidney failure, and was forced to give up her small apartment as her medical bills continued to mount, WBUR reported.

She was ineligible for assistance, and also could not take refuge in homeless shelters, as they wouldn’t let her bring her two dogs, Chaucer and Chase, with her, WBUR reported.

Upon learning her background, Akacha, a pharmacist herself, and Husband-Elsier put Schutzman up in a hotel, and continued using Nextdoor to recruit helpers, who brought food, blankets and supplies for Chaucer and Chase, ABC News reported.

“Everybody [that Akacha talked to in the pharmacy industry] knew that Lynn was a really wonderful, sweet, loving, giving person who really fell on hard times,” Husband-Elsier told the outlet. “That made us confident in our journey to start helping her.”

Click here for more stories on the impact of kindness from Julia Roberts, Tiffany Haddish and other stars, as well as everyday people practicing kindness in their communities. To share the story of someone who’s done something exceptionally kind, email kindnessawards@peoplemag.com.

Eventually, the women launched a crowdfunding page, and within 10 days, had raised enough money to get Schutzman a studio apartment.

When she finally moved in in May, neighbors came in droves to help paint and furnish her new pad with donated items.

Video shared by WBUR captured the moment Schutzman entered her new front door for the first time, and became overwhelmed by emotion.

“I know that Lynn needed us. She needed friendship and love and people who care. … We learned that we needed Lynn, too,” Husband-Elsier reportedly wrote in a Nextdoor post. “This opportunity has also given us love and friendship and restored our faith in humanity.”

The community raised enough money to cover Schutzman’s rent for the next two years, and she even plans on spending Thanksgiving this year with Husband-Elsier’s family, ABC News reported.

“I just want people to realize that this can happen to anybody. … I have a good job. I had good retirement but I got sick and health insurance only covers so much,” Schutzman told the outlet. “I have no children, I have no family. … I had nowhere to turn. Sometimes, you know, just the kindness of strangers just makes all the difference in someone’s life.”