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IMMIGRANT PUERTO RICAN FAMILY LIVES BARREN EXISTENCE

There is not even a coffee table in sight to decorate Maricely and Lisandro Sanchez's empty West Side Buffalo apartment.

For the comfort of a guest who has come to observe their plight, they offer the only piece of furniture they own: a dining room chair. They seat themselves on the living room floor while their 2-year-old son, Lisandro Jr., energetically roams about around the barren room.

The Sanchezes smile, but don't say much. They must rely on a friend to translate for them because their ability to speak English is limited. So much in their newly adopted city is foreign to them.

The couple left the small town of Juana Dias in southern Puerto Rico for the mainland United States only eight months ago.

The Sanchez family is typical of those that are helped each year by The Buffalo News Neediest Fund. They arrived with Maricely's stepfather, with whom they were living back in Puerto Rico. He left for Springfield, Mass., and they headed to Jamestown to live with Lisandro's brother.

"They were looking for some place to live together because they were living in a bedroom back in Puerto Rico," said Elizabeth Castillo, the Sanchezes' friend and translator.

Castillo befriended the couple soon after they arrived in Jamestown, meeting at the church where she and her husband had served as pastors.

The Sanchezes and their child "were living in the worst condition," Castillo recalled. "They were sleeping on the floor, and they didn't have any furniture. Their little boy got sick from the lead poison in the walls."

When the Castillos moved to Buffalo to take on duties at the Spanish Missionary Church of Christ, Prince of Peace on North Street a few months ago, the Sanchez family soon followed.

In fact, the couple and their baby moved in temporarily with the Castillos until a church member agreed to rent them a tidy little apartment in a two-family house he owns.

"They didn't have to pay a deposit, which helped a lot," said Castillo.

The family even managed to get assistance from Erie County Department of Social Services, which enables them to pay rent and buy food. They still haven't been approved for food stamps
yet, Castillo said, though they now receive Medicaid for Lisandro Jr., who is being treated for lead poisoning at the Women and Children's West Side Health Center on Niagara Street.

"He's on iron because his red blood cell count is very low. He also has asthma, but (the clinic) gave him a breathalyzer," Castillo added.

Lisandro Jr. has health benefits, but he does not have winter clothes. Neither he nor his parents have yet to experience a Western New York winter.

They all share a mattress on the floor purchased by Castillo. She also gave Lisandro Jr. a small toy car and a Dr. Suess children's book: "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish."

He seems to love it even though his parents are unable to read it to him.

Maricely, 22, dropped out of school in Puerto Rico. She said she could not afford the cost of the books and the uniform.

Twenty-four-year-old Lisandro said in Puerto Rico he completed a training course in the repair and operation of construction vehicles, though he anticipates a difficult time securing employment here because of the language barrier. He still wants badly to work.

"Right now, they're bored. They're young and they don't know anybody. So they don't go anywhere or do anything. They have no TV, no telephone, no radio. It's tough. (Lisandro) spends most of his time sleeping because he's depressed," Castillo said.

A year from now, the couple imagines their plight will have improved. For now, it's the little things in which they seek comfort.

"He said he would like a sofa or a table where they can sit down and eat," said Castillo.

Contributions to the News Neediest fund -- which is administered by the United Way-- can be sent to The News Neediest Fund, Station C Post Office, 1245 Main St., P.O. Box 444, Buffalo, NY 14209-0444.

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