Former Kingfield resident Michael Melton was preparing to return to Minneapolis from the Philippines in March when his flight on Asiana Air was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, with his financial resources depleted, he said his path home is uncertain and his family’s prospects are dire.
Melton, 58, grew up near 42nd & Blaisdell and moved back to his childhood home to live with his mother about 15 years ago. He is married to a Filipino woman, 24-year-old Mary Joy, with whom he has two daughters — one born Sept. 27 and the other a toddler. He typically spends his winters with his family in a house they own outside of the city of Cadiz and returns to Minnesota in the spring to work independently on jobs such as house painting, building decks and installing drywall. Mary Joy Melton and their children live in the Philippines all year. She takes care of the kids, said Michael Melton’s sister Amy, who lives in Wilmar, Minnesota.
This year, Michael Melton was unable to leave as the Philippines entered a strict lockdown in March. Restricted to their house and unable to work, Melton said his family ran out of money in May and was forced to rely on the goodwill of neighbors and his friends and former customers. At points, he said, they couldn’t afford food and were forced to rely on bananas, mangos and lemongrass grown in their yard for sustenance.
“It’s getting very difficult, because people are tired of me asking, ‘Help, help, help’ all of the time,” Melton said in a recent video interview. “It’s just terrible.”
The birth of their daughter in recent weeks has also added stress. Melton said that to receive medical care in the Philippines, patients need to prepay. Nelson loaned him $1,200 to cover a portion of the care, and Mary Joy Melton’s parents got a loan to cover the balance.
While giving birth in the hospital, a woman in the bed next to Mary Joy Melton tested positive for COVID-19, Nelson said, so the family has been quarantining in recent weeks.
Eventually, Michael Melton hopes to return to the U.S. alone so he can get work but finding his way here won’t be easy. He said that in order to leave, he would need to travel to another island to get an exit visa. Then he would have to travel to a different island to get on a flight, though he’d first have to take a COVID test and stay quarantined in a hotel for three days to wait for the results to come back. Then he’d have to pay a “terminal fee” to walk through the airport to get on the plane.
Melton said it has been scary and stressful to be stranded in a foreign country without money. He said that police in the Philippines strictly enforce mask mandates and at one point arrested a teenage neighbor of his who was doing work on his family’s roof without a mask on. “If police drive down the road and see you without a mask, you’re going to jail,” he said.
He said that most of the time he and his family are very hungry, that his blood pressure is elevated and that he’s experiencing swelling in his ankles.
Melton has shared more about his experience on GoFundMe, where he has raised $300 toward a $4,000 goal.