Annual Fireside Fund can help with this year's increasing heating needs for Sumter's seniors and disabled clients


I could do without ever using the phrase "the new normal" ever again.

It has been overused as a way to simply state that change has taken place. Like in every household, business and church, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced change, in some ways unwelcome change. For reasons we could not properly explain, our interview numbers have decreased since the pandemic, but the amount of money necessary to assist has increased. For example, less people may ask for help with rent, but rising rent prices necessitate a greater amount of assistance.

All of that changed this week.

As much of the financial assistance tied to the pandemic has ceased or slowed down and inflation has pinched pocketbooks everywhere, we have seen a shift in client needs. The interview numbers have slowly increased.

With the cold temperatures of the last week, the heating assistance interviews have filled our offices each day. Just this week, we had 10 households request kerosene in two days.

Most of these interviews have similarities: seniors and disabled clients living on incomes that do not exceed $1,000 a month.

As we enter the Thanksgiving holiday, I am thankful for a safe and warm home here in Sumter. I never give one thought about heat other than to set the thermostat and not think about it further. For some, having adequate heat in their home is a true factor leading to anxiety. For those heating with kerosene where there is no bill or account, it is a weekly routine scrounging together a few dollars here and there to purchase just enough to outlast a cold spell.

As you celebrate this week, I am sure you are thankful for many things. Generosity is a terrific way of expressing thanks, and the Fireside Fund is a worthy campaign for your donations. All of us at Sumter United Ministries are grateful for your support. Happy Thanksgiving!

Kevin Howell is the director of the Crisis Relief Ministry.


Each winter since 1969, The Sumter Item has run a fundraiser to collect money from its readers to be donated entirely to Sumter United Ministries.

The faith-based nonprofit provides emergency and life-rebuilding services ranging from food, shelter and clothing to final notice bill pay, access to educational opportunities and a medical clinic. The Sumter Item recognizes and appreciates every ministry their staff and volunteers run, but the Fireside Fund was created to focus on one area that becomes critical for the next few months: heat.

Every penny donated will directly help people who live in Sumter by preventing heating services from being turned off, allowing access to propane or other heating sources and, when enough funding is available and the need is there, funding long-term housing fixes to make homes more efficient.


Each year, The Item's leadership team picks a person who has recently passed away to which the year's campaign will be dedicated. The person honored is someone who made a positive impact in the community, whether through service or philanthropy or business leadership.

Abe Stern checked all those boxes.

He was Sumter's only Holocaust survivor and ran a successful shoe store, Jack's Department Store, for more than 60 years, where he created a space for students to earn money and gain professional mentorship.

Despite his traumatic past in World War II, being sent to a concentration camp and arriving to the United States with $30 in his pocket, he always donned a positive attitude and love for life and Sumter.

He served in the U.S. Air Force at Shaw Air Force Base and became a philanthropic and community supporter of Temple Sinai, Sumter's only synagogue.

He died Nov. 19, 2021. He was 92.

New donations as of Nov. 22: The Finney Family, in memory of Abe Stern, $300; and in memory of General and Lattie McCants, $550.