COLUMBIA, SC — The people who call the Salvation Army are different but their stories are often the same: an elderly widow on a fixed income, a single mother between jobs, a family with nowhere else to turn.
They call because their power is on the verge of being turned off. Each is hopeful the Woodyard Fund can help.
The Woodyard Fund pays energy bills for Richland, Lexington, Fairfield and Newberry County residents who are in crisis situations. Managed by the Salvation Army, the fund typically runs from late November through mid-March, when temperatures are lowest.
The unusually frigid weather this winter has led to a dramatic increase in requests for assistance, according to Melani Miller, director of program services for the Salvation Army of the Midlands.
One week in particular, the organizations voice mail received more than 100 messages within the first minute of accepting calls.
I dont know that there are more people in need this year than last year, but the need for heat is more critical this year because of the cold, Miller said.
In the days leading up to last Tuesdays snowstorm, Miller says the organization went into overdrive.
We truly tried to see as many folks as our staff possibly could, particularly people who had a cut-off date that was soon approaching.
Many seeking help are elderly or disabled individuals on fixed incomes. Others are trying to make ends meet during a gap in employment. And lately, Miller says, people who lost their seasonal jobs after the Christmas season have been calling.
The need is great, she said.
In January, the Woodyard Fund assisted more than 100 area families who were in danger of losing power. Keeping homes warm is a vital part of the programs mission, but Miller says thats not the only thing it does.
Not only does that mean heat, but it also means their refrigerator stays on and their stove stays on, and they dont have to abandon their home.
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 at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.
The phone line for assistance will be set to receive voice mail messages at 8:30 a.m., each Wednesday. The first 30 people to leave messages will be contacted for appointments for the following week. At other times, the line will provide general information about utility assistance and other programs.