Ministry helps single mother of 3 kids with $500+ electric bill

BY BRUCE MILLS
bruce@theitem.com
Posted 2/13/18

As winter reaches its halfway point, many Sumterites are struggling financially to put the severe weather of early January behind them, according to Kevin Howell, director of Sumter United Ministries' Crisis Relief Ministry. The ministry provides …

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Ministry helps single mother of 3 kids with $500+ electric bill

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As winter reaches its halfway point, many Sumterites are struggling financially to put the severe weather of early January behind them, according to Kevin Howell, director of Sumter United Ministries' Crisis Relief Ministry. The ministry provides relief with resources to help heat the homes of the less fortunate, thanks to donations to the Fireside Fund.

For all the ways that people heat their homes, Howell said, electric heat is the most common - generally via heat pumps (central heat and air) - but there is a cost issue.

"Heat pumps are not geared to economically handle low temperatures outside beyond 20 degrees of your thermostat setting," Howell said. "During the first week of January, the lows were in the teens for a full week. Final notices for those bills have now arrived in February, and client after client continues to bring in $300 to $400 electric bills to the Crisis Relief Ministry."

Howell explained how a single mother of three recently came to the ministry for assistance with the final or disconnect notice on her electric bill. The woman is disabled and receives Supplemental Security Income of $750 a month, and she was doing her best based on her means, Howell said.

"Her children are great students, and she exhibited strong parenting skills and was completely keen on her budget," Howell said. "She knew every expense, the monthly averages and how to prioritize the expenses."

According to Howell, the mother's monthly average electric bill is about $120, and she said she had the ability to pay her current bill if it were near that average.

The woman panicked, however, when the total due was more than $500, reflecting the severe winter cold in January, Howell said.

"After a brief explanation of the billing practices of the electric company, we searched for a creative way to assist her," Howell said. "She was not going to be able to handle the upcoming disconnect notice when it arrived, and she would not be able to return to us again next month since electric customers can only come in once a year to the ministry."

Howell said the ministry found a way to allow her to pay her bill and still provide relief, "chipping away" at the huge balance that still remained.

"Her crisis was a direct result of the severe weather," Howell said. "She was so grateful."

Howell said he expects many people will run into similar scenarios.

"Many of our neighbors in Sumter will have similar needs in the coming weeks, and the amounts needed to satisfy final notices on bills will be much larger than average," Howell said. "People's donations to Fireside Fund spread much-needed hope in our community."

Fireside Fund was established by The Sumter Item in 1969 to help needy families and individuals pay heating bills or buy firewood or heating fuels to stay warm during the winter months. Since its founding, Fireside Fund has brought in more than $1.5 million in donations from generous readers.

This winter's Fireside Fund is dedicated to the memory of former Sumter County Sheriff Tommy Mims, who died in December 2016.

Mims joined the sheriff's office as a deputy in 1965, and after 23 years of service, he was elected sheriff in 1988. Mims served as sheriff for 16 years until his retirement in 2004.

Throughout his tenure in law enforcement, Mims was seen as a mentor and father figure to the men and women he led. He was also considered a dedicated public servant by many Sumterites.

Donations can be mailed to The Sumter Item, P.O. Box 1677, Sumter, SC 29151, or dropped off at 36 W. Liberty St.

Anyone in need of assistance with heating costs may call Sumter United Ministries at (803) 775-0757.