ST. LOUIS — Aleta Coxen spends much of her time at home, often relegated to the couch. The treatment for her advanced ovarian cancer leaves her tired, nauseated and full of aches and pains. She's taunted by the dirt on the floor, fingerprints on the fridge and cobwebs in the corners.
"I don't feel like I'm doing the job I'm supposed to do as a housewife," she said through tears. Her husband, a St. Louis County police officer, works extra jobs to make up for her lost income and cover medical expenses. She hates for him to do the housecleaning, too. The dirt is a blaring reminder of things she can no longer do.
When a team from Marvelous Maids came to Coxen's home in St. Peters last month and cleaned it for free, she was overwhelmed. The company is one of three local cleaning services partnering with the Cleaning For a Reason Foundation, which recruits and supports maid services to provide four free house cleanings to women undergoing treatment for cancer.
"When they left, I started to cry. I don't think they really understood how appreciative I was of it," said Coxen, 48.
Cleaning For a Reason started almost three years ago after Debbie Sardone, an owner of a cleaning service north of Dallas, got a call from a woman inquiring about cost. The caller said she couldn't afford the service because of her cancer and hung up before Sardone could get her name, said foundation executive director Mike Farney.
Sardone decided to offer free cleanings to any woman in cancer treatment. Other maid services learned of her donations and urged her to expand the idea. Sardone formed the foundation and after introducing it at a national convention, 50 businesses signed up.
It quickly grew. The foundation partners with 613 cleaning services in 50 states and Canada, and 35 to 45 new services join each month, Farney said. It is still not enough, however, to meet demand.
The small staff can handle only 50 applications Monday through Thursday, which are taken at noon on the foundation's website. The maximum is reached after about six minutes. "Our biggest push right now is for maid service participation," Farney said.
The foundation asks participating maid services to provide four free monthly cleanings for at least two clients at a time and requires a monthly pledge to help cover expenses. The foundation handles the applications, reviews proof from a doctor and notifies the cleaning service when a woman is approved in its service area.
Kathy Gage, owner of Marvelous Maids, which services St. Charles County with 30 employees, has been a partner for over two years. The company agreed to take three clients at a time but often accepts more.
"We feel like our business has gotten so big, and we wanted to give back to the community in some way," said Gage, 55. "It's such a perfect fit for a cleaning business because we mostly clean for women, and most of our employees are women."
The employees experience great satisfaction with helping, despite being faced with tough situations, she said. They see sick moms with small children. Some clients have died.
"It's helped our staff to really see that it's more than just a job," Gage said. "Cleaning houses is really a service that you give to somebody. They are not just seeing themselves as someone that cleans toilets."
Other area partners are Green Angel Cleaning Services, which serves south St. Louis and nearby suburbs; and Go Green Clean, which serves south St. Louis County and parts of the city. Each are small eco-friendly companies with just six to seven employees. The owners encouraged other services to sign up as partners.
"The more maid services we can get involved in the St. Louis area, the more women we can help get part of their life back," said Go Green Clean owner Angela Ricketts, 31.
Coxen was thankful to have had a clean house for Christmas with her three adult children, to not have to worry how the bathroom looks during coveted visits from friends and to be comfortable in her home.
She said, "It's the little things that you can do in your community for people that don't expect it."