Woodyard Fund helps area needy pay utility bills

For more than 200 years, the Woodyard Fund has helped keep Midlands’ families warm and secure during the winter months.

Last year, the fund helped 221 families. Among those helped were:

A grandmother raising twin grandsons who feared coming home to a dark house when she fell behind on her bill after her work hours were cut back.

A single mom of three who was facing eviction if she couldn’t get her electricity turned back on.

A woman at risk of losing a family home because her power bill was more than her monthly income.

A family facing a dismal Christmas because of a series of obstacles.

A mother and teenage daughter who had lived in their truck before finding an apartment they struggled to afford.

Once again, Salvation Army officials will be counting on the community’s generosity to help families such as these as it launches the annual Woodyard Fund drive.

The fund helps pay energy bills for residents of Richland, Lexington, Fairfield and Newberry counties who are in crisis situations, through monetary donations from the community.

Donors contributed $93,446 to last year’s fund, which allowed the Salvation Army to provide utility assistance to 221 families from December through March.

That was an increase from the previous year, when $84,979 was raised for about 170 families.

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 newspaper, began publicizing the fund and those it helped, a tradition the newspaper continues each winter.

“The help provided to families through the Woodyard program is only possible through the generosity of donors and the community,” says Maj. Henry Morris, area commander for The Salvation Army of the Midlands. “The program is well established, and The State does such a wonderful job promoting the personal stories of people who have come in our office, who have shared their situation and how they were impacted.”

Through the Woodyard 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.

The need is ongoing and is available year-round for many families. But during the summer, many can keep their utility bills affordable by living, perhaps uncomfortably, in a warmer house. But the winter is different, when heat is a necessity.

“During the cold winter months, increased heating costs can cause overwhelming financial strain,” Morris says. “Making sure that families are able to stay warm during these months is critical, and some just need a little assistance to make it through. Elderly families, single-parent families … this is something that folks in the community absolutely love because they are able to directly impact folks who are in dire need.”

How to give help: Donations can be mailed to the Woodyard Fund, c/o The Salvation Army of the Midlands, P.O. Box 2786, 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 803-462-5093 for more information or to make an appointment for assistance.