Spreading warmth during the winter

brantin@thestate.comDecember 1, 2013 

— While the prospects of a colder than normal winter may breed hopes of snowfall, hayrides and bonfires for some Midlands residents, scores of others could find themselves struggling to keep their houses warm.

It’s the later probability that has Salvation Army officials counting on the community’s generosity again this year as it launches the annual Woodyard Fund drive this week.

The fund helps pay energy bills for Richland, Lexington, Fairfield and Newberry County residents who are in crisis situations. The needs promise to be significant again this year as many continue to struggle because of a job loss or other financial strain.

Donors contributed $116,114 to last year’s fund, allowing the Salvation Army to provide utility assistance to 365 families.

“Without this assistance these 365 families would have been without utilities during the winter months,” said Maj. Roger Coulson, regional coordinator/corps officer for the Salvation Army of the Midlands

Coulson said a lack of heat is just the beginning of potential problems faced by those who are in danger of having their power turned off.

“While heating is one of the most critical issues for families in cold weather, a family without electricity often cannot cook,” he explained. “Food will spoil in the refrigerator if utilities are shut off. This, unfortunately, is most often a family’s first step toward homelessness."

Salvation Army officials say many who seek assistance have often lost a job or unemployment benefits, while others have unexpected medical or other emergency expenses.

Responding to such circumstances is a principle the Woodyard Fund has modeled since it was created.

The fund traces its origins to 1816, when the Ladies Benevolent Society provided firewood and, later, coal to families in need. The society turned management of the charity over to the Salvation Army around the turn of the 20th century.

In 1930, William E. Gonzales, then-editor of The State, began publicizing the fund and those it helped, a tradition the newspaper continues each winter.

Through the fund, eligible households get vouchers redeemable at businesses that provide heating services. The Salvation Army reimburses the businesses for the voucher amounts.

Each applicant is screened to verify need and to ensure that no other resources are available.

This year’s fund will begin accepting phone applications on Wednesday. The first 30 people to leave messages will be contacted for appointments for the following week. The phone will be set to receive voice mail messages at 8:30 a.m. each Wednesday. At other times, the line will provide general information about utility assistance and other programs.

The Woodyard Fund usually runs from late November through mid March, when temperatures generally are the lowest.

Woodyard Fund

How to give help: Donations can be mailed to the Woodyard Fund, c/o The State, P.O. Box 1333, Columbia SC 29202. Make checks payable to the Woodyard Fund. All donations are tax-deductible.

How to get help: Area residents who need assistance with heating bills can call for an appointment at (803) 462-5093 beginning Wednesday.

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