Annual fundraiser benefiting Sumter United Ministries honors Bill Painter

Late educator and city councilman dedicated years to public service


Coach Painter left a legacy that spanned 28 years of public service and nearly 40 in education, but his impact has not been finished yet.

Bill Painter, a teacher, coach and public school administrator who served on Sumter City Council, passed away in March at the age of 80. The Sumter Item has now named him as the honoree for this year's Fireside Fund, an annual fundraiser starting this week to raise money for Sumter United Ministries, which is a faith-based nonprofit that provides critical services including food, shelter, medical care, clothing, bill pay and education to those in need.

Mayor Joe McElveen described Painter in March as a "positive force, team builder, consensus builder and someone who never sought credit for anything that he did."

Painter's public service stretched beyond his time as a city councilman. He served on handfuls of boards and commissions, including Governor Edward's Task Force for Early Childhood Education, Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club, South Carolina United Way Board, Sumter United Way Board, Grace Baptist Church Deacon Board, the Sumter Education Foundation and Santee-Lynches Regional Council of Governments and was a member of the Rotary Club of Sumter-Palmetto.

He was always trying to improve his community and help those in need, which is why the Fireside Fund is a perfect way to remember him.

SUM helps individuals and families in myriad ways, but this fundraiser funnels money to the ministry's mission in supporting heating costs. With an already colder-than-normal season so far, heating can be expensive and, if not done right, dangerous.

"Some people use their ovens, and that causes crazy-high utility bills and is very dangerous," said Mark Champagne, executive director at SUM.

When it gets cold out and people need to heat their homes, they often have to resort to choosing between feeding their family or going to the doctor or staying cold or using unsafe methods to get heat.

Every penny donated through the Fireside Fund will help SUM clients pay their electric or gas bill or provide them with a $75 fuel card so they can buy kerosene.

Last year, The Sumter Item collected $39,909 through the Fireside Fund. During 2018's winter months of January-March then November and December, SUM spent $23,000 in assistance just in paying for gas and an additional $66,000 in electric utilities, Champagne said.

"So that $40,000 is obviously very significant," he said.

Clients go through an interview process and can only be helped by the electric/heating program once a year, Champagne said.

Money from the Fireside Fund allows SUM to offer flexibility. It sometimes is able to go more in-depth with clients and provide long-term fixes instead of the Bandaid of kerosene.

"We see people in a lot of different situations," he said. "It gives us the ability to help get some older folks in a better situation or families with a lot of young kids in the house."

To be interviewed, all you need is a picture ID and Social Security card. For help with a utility bill, you must provide a final notice or disconnect notice. If you need kerosene, you simply come in for the interview and sign for it.

Champagne said this funding allows his small staff and large amount of volunteers - SUM does not receive state or federal funding - to tell clients about their wintertime opportunities when they come in during the summer. Since they can only come in for the same help once a year for utilities, they would get help on their electric bill in the summer and not come back in. But, if they use a second source for their heat, they can be helped.

The ministry already has already seen an influx of clients needing heating help in November since temperatures dropped, he said.

If Painter's legacy was leadership and helping those in need, whether children or his constituents, a way to honor that legacy with direct impact can be to donate to the Fireside Fund.