Benjamin and Michelle Galvan left Albuquerque, N.M., in early November with suitcases in hand and a fire in their hearts. The train ride to Buffalo took three days and cost the family of five $790.
For the Galvans and their three sons – Jayden, 12, Joshua, 10, and Benjamin Jr., 9 – the trip was a new beginning.
“It was a leap of faith,” said Benjamin Galvan, who is 56. “We were desperate for a change. There were a lot of things that made us leave Albuquerque – school, cost of living. Our landlord didn’t want to do any repairs and there was black mold on the walls.”
To afford the move, the Galvans sold their possessions. The clothing in their suitcases was all they had when they arrived at their new apartment in Depew.
“We sold our old car for $1,100 to the first guy who came to the door,” recalled Michelle Galvan, 29. “We knew what we were getting into. This month we thought it would be cheaper but then we ended up fighting with the car dealer to get our deposit back. We got it back after chasing him for three weeks now. Finally we got our $200 back and we put $100 each into our new bank accounts. That will have to stretch for the rest of the month.”
The Lancaster Youth Bureau, 200 Oxford Ave., is playing a huge role in helping the Galvans through their first months here, said John Trojanowsky, executive director of the Youth Bureau. The annual “Day of Caring” Christmas program helps hundreds of residents in the area, including the Galvans, who chose to live in the Buffalo area after consulting “Sperling’s Best Places,” which rates cities based on cost of living, unemployment, crime rates, population health and cultural events. Sperling’s rates Buffalo second in the country behind Pittsburgh.
“We got tired of the desert,” said Michelle Galvan, who grew concerned over Albuquerque’s murder rate and drug trade.
In little more than a month, the Galvans pulled together some eclectic furnishings for their two-bedroom first-floor apartment. A wide-screen television they found at the curb sports a picture with a distinct green tint. Their kitchen table and chairs, along with their bedroom set, are rentals.
Topping the Galvans’ wish list is a mattress and box spring for the boys. All three boys sleep on the same air mattress. They like it that way, Michelle Galvan said.
“They’ll fight during the day about toys, and at night they’re all in the same bed,” she said. “We tried the separate bed thing, and they all pile in one bed. They pile into a twin-size bed – all three of them – and fit like origami, every which way.”
The boys are accustomed to getting by with less, their parents said. The Xbox given to them by the son of their apartment manager was like an early Christmas gift, said Michelle Galvan.
“When we came here we found just how far behind they all were in school,” she said. “The oldest, who is 12, should be in sixth grade, but here he’s in fifth. In New Mexico, Benjamin, the baby, was at the head of his class. Here, he struggles with math and reading. “
For his birthday on Nov. 30, she bought Benjamin a box of cake mix.
“I decorate cakes so I told him this year his birthday would be Christmas,” she said.
The Galvans have had a rough go. Michelle Galvan suffers from panic attacks and depression, products of a life spent in too many foster homes, she said.
“My life is like a Tim Burton movie,” said the woman who wanted to live in Seattle because it rained all the time.
“Every time it would rain in New Mexico – which would not be often – she’d be happy,” said Benjamin Galvan. “I drove trucks in 48 states and Canada, so I’ve seen snow. I told her upstate New York was beautiful but the winters are rough. She said she wanted a change of scenery.”
Michelle’s mother had nine children. She said she used to be a “social cat,” but her anxiety has made her withdrawn. She does not like to be around too many people.
Her husband, a former truck driver, is her rock. A quiet man, his driving days are over because of a heart condition that required the surgical placement of a defibrillator and pacemaker. He said he got used to not being with people when he was driving a rig.
“I could spend a whole week not talking to people,” he said. “I really don’t hang out with anyone except for my family. We spend all of our time together, 24/7.
“I don’t think I’ve met anyone on the entire planet who I can spend so much time with,” he said of his wife. “That’s the way we’ve been since we met. We’re best friends.”
He added, “I’m pretty stable. I’m very dependable and very loyal. I’ll stick with Michelle and I love the kids. I like it here. I know it’s tough now. We’re starting over and little by little things are getting better.”