Nearly 500 Midlands families had a warmer winter in 2011 thanks to the generosity of area residents.
And Salvation Army officials are counting on that same generosity 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 more than $120,000 to last year’s fund, allowing the Salvation Army to provide utility assistance to 481 families, about 50 more from the year before.
“What a blessing,” said Maj. Roger Coulson, regional coordinator/corps officer at The Salvation Army of the Midlands. “If it were not for the Woodyard Fund, families including children and the elderly would be without heat in the winter.”
Coulson said many who sought assistance last year had either lost a job or unemployment benefits, while others had unexpected medical expenses.
“Unemployment continues to be an issue in the Midlands,” Coulson said. “Many families struggle when hours are cut back or when a two-income family becomes a one-income family.”
All those factors made it more difficult for many to absorb the rising cost of fuel, and agency officials expect many of the same patterns again this year.
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.
Coulson said the fund remains a virtual lifeline for many struggling families.
“Families in real need can keep their heat on during the winter months,” he said. “That’s the true value. If it weren’t for the Woodyard Fund, many families in the Midlands would be living without heat in the winter.”
He praised the community for its continued support of the fund and those it helps.
“Woodyard donors give from the heart,” Coulson said. “They see this as a true need in the community and want to help their neighbors in the community.”
The Woodyard Fund usually runs from late November through mid March, when temperatures generally are the lowest.