‘Their generosity is a gift from God’

rfriedman@thestate.comMarch 9, 2014 

— In a winter that has brought the Midlands a major snow storm, a major ice storm and 39 days with temperatures below freezing, it’s no surprise that the phone at the Salvation Army has been ringing off the hook.

“We’re just inundated with calls,” said Melani Miller, director of program services for the Salvation Army of the Midlands.

The calls are from Midlands residents seeking assistance from the Woodyard Fund, which helps pay energy bills for people in crisis situations. Now managed by the Salvation Army, the fund traces its origins to 1816, when the Ladies Benevolent Society provided firewood and, later, coal to families in need. It usually runs from late November through mid March, when temperatures generally are the lowest.

The fund has raised nearly $108,043, down slightly from the same period last year.

So far this winter, the fund has assisted nearly 400 families, and Miller anticipates the final total to be at least 430. When the entire household is accounted for, she estimates it will affect more than 1,000 people.

“These families wouldn’t be helped if it wasn’t for the Woodyard Fund,” she said.

Miller believes the fund prevents many of them from becoming homeless.

“When a family is facing a utility cutoff in the winter, it means obviously that they don’t have heat but also that they can’t cook and their food goes bad. That becomes a step toward homelessness. It’s very difficult to recover from that.”

Those who ask for help are often single parents struggling to pay bills while raising a family. Miller says they also see many elderly people on fixed incomes whose utility bills spike in the winter.

Others are facing emergency situations. Miller recounted the story of a blind man whose bank account was emptied by a family member pretending to manage his bills. Because of his blindness, leaving the familiar layout of his home to stay somewhere else wasn’t an option. The Woodyard Fund ensured that he wouldn’t lose power.

“The amount of relief that that gave him was tremendous.”

With seasons changing this month, the Salvation Army’s efforts will wind down until the cold weather returns in November. Wednesday is the last day caseworkers will take appointments.

The program depends on donations, and Miller says those who have given this winter have made a measurable impact on the community.

“Their generosity is a gift from God. They bring tremendous relief to families that see the possibility of being homeless on the horizon.”

Woodyard Fund

How to give help : Mail donations 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.

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