Sumter Item's Fireside Fund helps man after restaurant job lost in pandemic


While working in the nonprofit world often means meeting people at their lowest when they are most in need, a ministry leader can reflect on the beauty of meeting so many people in the Sumter community.

In his weekly Fireside Fund update, Kevin Howell, director of the Crisis Relief Ministry at Sumter United Ministries, said he is "continually amazed" at the number of hard-working, low-income people in the area who "have such beautiful perspective and contentment in life."

The fundraiser is held via The Sumter Item each winter to raise money for the faith-based emergency services organization, which uses the funding to provide heating assistance to those in need. The Fireside Fund directly helps the ministry pay clients' final notices, pay down large bills, provide vouchers for kerosene and sometimes even long-term fixes to old homes lacking in HVAC or access to heat.

Since 1969, the Sumter community has donated more than $1.7 million. This year, SUM has predicted - correctly - that there would be an increased need because of the hardships placed upon so many by the pandemic. This week, Howell recalled a man in his early 60s who benefitted from the kindness of strangers this season.

"He heats his home entirely with electric heat. He has struggled since the COVID-19 pandemic began," Howell said. "He has worked at the same restaurant for many years, but they could no longer afford to employ him, and he was laid off in March."

Howell said the man continued to check in with the restaurant but that business is not strong enough for him to be rehired.

"He also has lost several family members due to COVID-19, and he was quite emotional. He desperately wants to return to work and has no form of government assistance sustaining him at this time," he said.

SUM, with money from the Fireside Fund, was able to pay his final notice, preventing his heat from being cut off.

Howell also recalled a different day when a single woman in her late 50s requested help with kerosene to heat her home amid this cold snap.

"I was astonished that she only brought one container to be filled. Talking to her quickly revealed to me how rare it is that she asks for help and how grateful she is for anything that is given to her," Howell said. "She works but receives a very small income. Recently, she needed minor surgery and missed one month of work. She is now back to work but lacked the cash to purchase kerosene.

"We were able to help her (and even found another container to give her more than she ever requested). Thank you for helping Sumter neighbors stay warm under difficult circumstances this winter."

New donations as of Jan. 12: William Q. Brunson family, $300; Dale and Mary Lair, $100; Nancy McCreight, in memory of Hubert D. Osteen Jr.; $100; The Index-Journal Company, in memory of Hubert D. Osteen Jr., $200; Sissy (Clark) Bynum, in loving memory of Hubert D. Osteen Jr., $50; Charlie Pitts, in honor of Jennifer Settle, $25; Tommy and Patsy Rogerson, in memory of Tom (T.M.) Ward, $50; Barbara Ellis, in memory of retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Billy J. Ellis, Catholic deacon retired St. Anne & St. Jude Parish and Our Lady of the Skies Catholic Chapel Shaw Air Force Base, $100; and Members of the Adult III Sunday School Class of Shaw Heights Baptist Church, $100.