The number of clients requesting assistance at Sumter United Ministries' Crisis Relief Ministry has risen sharply in the last week or so as final, or disconnect, notices now reflect the severe weather of early January, according to Crisis Relief …
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BY MARK CHAMPAGNE
In total, I've lived in South Carolina for more than 20 years, and I don't remember us ever having such long stretches of cold weather as we've experienced this year. It's great to see some relief and to feel the warming as spring approaches. However, the financial effects of the cold weather have not left us yet. We continue to see large numbers of people coming through our doors who need assistance with unusually large bills.
I believe most people would agree that we wouldn't like to see our own family choose between food or medicine so they could pay their electric or gas bill, especially those who are older and living on a fixed income, disabled or under-employed and trying to make ends meet. Sumter United Ministries often fills the role of family to those who have no one else to turn to.
Please help Fireside Fund finish strong and ease the burden for one of our neighbors. There are only a few weeks left for the fund this season. Let's treat them like family. Thank you!
Mark Champagne is the executive director of Sumter United Ministries.
The number of clients requesting assistance at Sumter United Ministries' Crisis Relief Ministry has risen sharply in the last week or so as final, or disconnect, notices now reflect the severe weather of early January, according to Crisis Relief Ministry Director Kevin Howell.
Howell said the Crisis Relief Ministry continues to interview as many people as possible, and many Sumterites are being assisted thanks to donations from The Sumter Item's Fireside Fund.
Howell recently shared the story of one client - a lady with an SCE&G account for natural gas who heats her home strictly with a natural gas furnace, and the expense is a large percentage of her budget, according to Howell.
The client was a full-time worker until four months ago when the company she worked for laid her off, and she wasn't eligible for unemployment benefits, he said.
As she found a lateral move to be difficult, she quickly accepted a position in the service industry, according to Howell.
"It's a less-skilled position than she had previously, and it's only part time," Howell said. "She now clears less than $400 a month, which is nearly 80 percent less than what she made not long ago."
As she continues to search for better employment, the short-term financial struggles left her desperate for help, Howell said.
"Without the help of the ministry, she may have had no other option but short-term loans and the vicious cycles of recurring debt pitted against inadequate income to pull herself out," Howell said.
The ministry helped her to clear her SCE&G balance and prevented a disconnect of her heat source, Howell said.
"She was overwhelmed with gratitude to all who made it possible," Howell said.
The ministry's requests for propane, kerosene and natural gas continue at a steady pace, along with electric final notices for those solely using electric heat, according to Howell.
"Many of these bill cycles are as much as 200 percent of normal averages for the month of January," Howell said.
Howell encouraged others to give to Fireside Fund as many Sumterites struggle to put the brunt of winter behind them and maintain necessary essentials, such as electricity and heat.
"Thank you for your kind donations to Fireside Fund," Howell said.
Fireside Fund was established by The Sumter Item in 1969 to help needy families and individuals pay heating bills or buy firewood or heating fuels to stay warm during the winter months. Since its founding, Fireside Fund has brought in nearly $1.6 million in donations from generous readers.
This winter's Fireside Fund is dedicated to the memory of former Sumter County Sheriff Tommy Mims, who died in December 2016.
Mims joined the sheriff's office as a deputy in 1965, and after 23 years of service, he was elected sheriff in 1988. Mims served as sheriff for 16 years until his retirement in 2004.
Throughout his tenure in law enforcement, Mims was seen as a mentor and father figure to the men and women he led. He was also considered a dedicated public servant by many Sumterites.
Donations can be mailed to The Sumter Item, P.O. Box 1677, Sumter, SC 29151, or dropped off at 36 W. Liberty St.
Anyone in need of assistance with heating costs may call Sumter United Ministries at (803) 775-0757.
Donations for the week ending Friday, Feb. 16, 2018:
In memory of Carol Burr from Harold and Tonie Burr, $100; Engadine and Valerie Johnson, $50; in honor of Mary Pack from Charles Pitts, $25.
Total anonymous this week: $100
Total this week: $275
Total this year: $36,824.01
Total last year: $48,601.18
Total since 1969: $1,577,412.25
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