It's early December, and Fireside Fund is underway. The fund provides financial assistance to Sumter United Ministries' Crisis Relief Ministry. In turn, the ministry helps local families in need through financial assistance with heating utilities in the fall and winter months.
To date, random dips in overnight temperatures in the area have caused increased pleas for help at Sumter United Ministries, according to Crisis Relief Ministry Director Kevin Howell.
Howell said because Sumter is generally considered an older community, there are many old houses in the area in disrepair and others that are simple structures - such as block houses and siding houses - with no interior walls. Unfortunately, many people still call these residences "home," Howell said.
Electrical HVAC systems have to work much harder to heat these older structures, which generally have thin insulation, single-pane windows and many cracks and holes that allow cold air into the living space.
For these reasons, many clients of Crisis Relief Ministry who live in these older structures rely on kerosene as a more effective heat source to warm their homes, according to Howell.
However, kerosene is one of the most expensive fuels for heat, which only deepens the struggle for many, according to Howell.
For the last few weeks, Howell said, many clients at Crisis Relief Ministry have waited in line for more than an hour to interview for financial assistance.
"We have already seen dozens of kerosene requests, and we've been able to help due to the generosity of those who respond with donations," Howell said.
For many in Sumter, the struggle to heat their home with kerosene is a daily battle - gallon by gallon - to ensure the radiant warmth of a kerosene heater limits the cold in their home, according to Howell.
"Fireside Fund donations will ensure more residents receive the extra help they need to alleviate the financial burden that winter's cold brings each year," Howell said. "On behalf of everyone, we say 'thank you.'"
This winter's Fireside Fund is dedicated to the memory of former Sumter County Sheriff Tommy Mims, who died in 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.
Fireside Fund was established by The Sumter Item in 1969 to help needy families and individuals pay heating bills, buy firewood or heating fuels and stay warm during the winter months. Since its founding, Fireside Fund has brought in more than $1.5 million in donations from generous readers.
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 ending the week of Monday, Dec. 4:
The Glenmore & May Sharp Trust, $10,000; Sumter County Masters Gardeners' Association, $500; Crusaders Sunday School Class, Dalzell Baptist Church, $100; in memory of Scott Rumph by Hubert and Jackie Osteen, $500; Church of The Ascension DCW Ellen Ellerbe Chapter, $50; Christian Golfers' Association, Sumter Chapter, $500; Sumter American Legion Aux Unit 15, $150; in memory of Robert L. "Bob" Davis by Nancy Davis, $100; and in memory of Carolyn Evans and Edna Watford, $500.
Total combined anonymous: $0
Total this week: $12,400
Total this year: $12,400
Total last year: $48,601.18
Total since 1969: $1,552,989.24