Friday, November 14, 2008

Desperate Need

The weather’s colder. Money is tighter. Appalachian Power just announced a major increase in the electricity bill.

This time of year is downright hard for folks who are having trouble with their finances. Add a predicted recession to that and you have a recipe for cold feet, ill health and plenty of woe.

The Fuel Assistance Program run by the Botetourt County Department of Social Services currently has no money in it. Folks who need a little help with their light bill or their heat have nowhere to turn.

Donations are way down.

“We are in desperate need. We have no money,” Social Services Director Mary Lou Mullis said.
The program helps people out with a one-time payment for fuel. Companies will only bring 100 gallons of fuel at a time, so with prices running high the coffers are quickly depleted.

This program does not use state or local dollars. While there are some state funds available for emergency uses, the crisis program does not begin until January and funding for that program is limited.

The Fuel Assistance Program often helps people who fall between the cracks. These are folks who may normally work but have recently lost a job due to illness or lay off. With no money coming in, they are at risk of losing their electricity or heat.

“The government does not give us money for those people,” Mullis said. Everyone who receives funds is checked out and the need is verified before dollars are handed over, she said.

These folks simply need a hand until they can get back on their feet. Most recently a woman who had been very ill called saying she had a $10 balance on her light bill; the electric company was on the way to shut off her power.

A call from Social Services kept her electricity on. However, the woman has no family in the area and her illness has kept her from work for a number of weeks. Mullis worried that she would suffer until she could get well enough to return to work.

Senior Social Worker Brenda Holdren worries that even with government assistance money will be tight. The state is looking at a shortfall and she expects assistance dollars to be less than last year.

“We are desperately in need of money to help people to buy oil or pay electric bills,” Holdren said. “Just to keep these things going.”

Social Services is receiving several calls a day from people who are in need. They do their best to help but often can only make a referral to a local church or other organization.

“I anticipate its going to get worse,” Mullis said. “It’s not even cold yet.”

There are many folks in the county to worry about – the elderly, the disabled, next door neighbors who may be needy but not speaking up.

To donate to the Fuel Assistance Program, send funds to Department of Social Services, P. O. Box 160, Fincastle, VA 24090.

I wrote this article for The Fincastle Herald. It appeared in the November 11, 2008 edition.


  1. One of the perks of being a writer: promoting those worthy causes.

  2. It's frightening, isn't it? NBC News reported a similar story last night. Food banks all over the country are dealing with empty shelves. Even Meals on Wheels is having to cut back. It's heart-breaking.

  3. Things are looking pretty grim. I'm wishing we didn't have to wait until January 20th to have Obama take over the helm. He can't do miracles, but he'll give us a sense that somebody is in charge!

  4. I, too, got a notice for my increase in the electric bill, which of course is subsidized by - you guessed it - AEP!

  5. That woman would not get well enough to go back to work if her electric would have gotten turned off. It's really scary. Like many people, we can't help even though we'd like to. We're on the edge ourselves.

    June, we might have to wait for President-elect Obama, but he's moving at lightening speed right now getting things ready to go. He is scrambling. Let's hope that everyone can hang on.

  6. I'd have sent the lady with the $10 elec. bill money in a heartbeat. Not to the Fuel Assistance Program, but directly to her or just paid her dang bill for her... for heaven sakes. Many of us blow more than $10 a week..... At least in my world, and I would hope if I ever had a $10 elec. bill that I could not pay that someone would pay mine for me...

  7. I just put a check in the mail. From all that I read, we haven't seen the worst of it yet. I hope that my small contribution will go directly to a person in need.


I enjoy your comments and always appreciate the opportunity to visit the blogs of my readers. I hope you have a great day!