The below-average lows of early January have increased the number of clients seeking heat-related assistance at Sumter United Ministries' Crisis Relief Ministry, according to director Kevin Howell.
Howell said continued donations to the The …
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Howell said continued donations to the The Sumter Item's annual fundraiser, Fireside Fund, allows the relief ministry to assist with levels of financial support that would otherwise not be possible.
"Multiple families interviewing last week told us they typically last an entire winter on one tank of propane, but they are already running out for the season due to the cold weather," Howell said. "Increased need for heat has increased the financial burden on budgets where clients have small, fixed incomes due to disability or retirement."
Howell shared a story about an elderly, married couple - both 90 years old - who recently came to the ministry requesting help with propane.
An "adopted" granddaughter had stopped by their home initially to check on them, according to Howell, and received a call that the propane tank was scheduled to be locked out and disconnected.
"The billing practice of the energy company had changed, and the senior couple was not aware of the pending past-due charges," Howell said. "By the time the family friend became involved, the bill in collection status was more than $1,000."
The couple has a modest income, but their expenses are also generally low, Howell said. Typically, they have some margin to handle unplanned expenses, but the $1,000 bill was well beyond their ability to handle.
"Their very access to heat in the home was in jeopardy," Howell said. "Sumter United Ministries wasn't able to pay the bill in full, but the ministry was able to provide hundreds of dollars in assistance to bridge between what the couple was able to pay and what was owed. It provided incredible relief to a couple that had previously never needed the ministry's assistance."
The Crisis Relief Ministry encouraged the family friend to be a payee and caretaker to ensure the couple's bills were satisfied and that no future notices would catch them off guard, according to Howell.
"It was a request that made everyone grateful," Howell said. "In fact, one of the ministry's volunteers who assisted in the couple's interview confessed: 'I use propane, and my expense has been greater than most seasons. I give to the Fireside Fund, and it makes me very happy to see it being put to use in situations like these.'"
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 more than $1.5 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 ending the week of Monday, Feb. 5:
Christine Stockton, $50; in honor of Marjorie L. Kolb, $100; William Marshburn, $25; in memory of Jack M. Summers, $100; in honor of Jennett Mickens, $25; Homer and Barbara Smith, $200; Crosswell Baptist Church Women's Bible Study Group, $50; Christian Golfers' Association, Sumter Chapter, $500.
Total anonymous this week: $400
Total this week: $1,450
Total this year to date: $35,909.01
Total last year: $48,601.18
Total since 1969: $1,576,497.25
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