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Sumter Fireside Fund helps elderly woman who took in granddaughter, her new child

BY KAYLA GREEN
kayla@theitem.com
Posted 1/22/20

Of all ways to heat a home in the winter, propane deliveries can cause the greatest strain, and taking on those large bills with any type of unexpected life situation can be too much for a homeowner to handle.

That's where the Fireside Fund comes …

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Sumter Fireside Fund helps elderly woman who took in granddaughter, her new child

Posted

Of all ways to heat a home in the winter, propane deliveries can cause the greatest strain, and taking on those large bills with any type of unexpected life situation can be too much for a homeowner to handle.

That's where the Fireside Fund comes in. Each year since 1969, The Sumter Item has asked readers for monetary donations that we then give entirely to Sumter United Ministries, which is a faith-based nonprofit that provides those in need of help with food, shelter, bill pay, clothing, education and medical assistance.

The Fireside Fund is dedicated to providing heating help. Staff and volunteers at SUM interview clients and determine whether that help should be bill pay, final notice avoidance, gaining access to heat sources or conducting long-term upgrades to homes to save on future bills. The more they get, the more they can help, and they do not receive funding from state, local or federal sources.

This year, the fund is in honor of the late Bill Painter, a longtime educator and public servant in Sumter who passed away earlier this year.

Kevin Howell, director of the Crisis Relief Ministry at SUM, the branch that interviews clients for food, heating and clothing help, said the price of propane is not the problem as much as the way it must be purchased.

For many clients who live on less than $1,000 a month, paying for hundreds of pounds of propane to be delivered at a time can create a $500-$1,000 expense.

Recently, Howell interviewed a senior living in the county who brought in a nearly $600 propane bill. She depends on propane for heating her home and for hot water, and she recently took in her 20-year-old granddaughter who "lost her way" and had burned bridges with other family members.

"The granddaughter had dropped out of school and recently had a daughter of her own," Howell said. "It was obvious that the situation was a huge burden on our client. In your late 70s, teaching a young adult about responsibility is often not an expected course in life."

The increase in utilities was becoming a burden on the now-great-grandmother, as the young woman who moved in with her did not have any income.

Howell said of "all the terrific details of assistance" that played out, the most helpful seemed to be when SUM staff helped the woman map out expectations for her granddaughter, including making referrals to other agencies that may be able to help the small family.

The client later brought back paperwork to the SUM office to show she took her granddaughter to get enrolled in a GED program. SUM was able to pay a substantial amount of her propane delivery bill to ensure the family stays warm for weeks to come.

"That would be impossible without the Fireside Fund," Howell said. "Those donations are not only keeping families warm, they are changing lives."

Donations received last week as of Monday, Jan. 20: Valerie Johnson, $25; Council of Garden Clubs of Sumter, in honor of Laura R. Baker, $100; Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Incorporated, $220; Tuesday Club that meets on Thursday, $150; Charlie Pitts, in honor of Mary Pack, $25; and Nancy McCreight, in memory of Peggy and Charles McCreight, undisclosed.