Heating assistance program warms toddlers, the elderly

By Shelby Harrell Staff Writer | Nov 08, 2013

Last Friday, Haywood County residents lined up at Haywood Christian Ministry to apply for its emergency heating assistance program in hopes they could stay warm this winter.

The program provides up to 100 gallons of heating oil once a year for clients who are eligible. Haywood Chrisitan Ministry is able to spend $20,000 per month to provide oil through March.

For single mom Michaela Finney of Waynesville, receiving heating oil from the ministry means she won’t have to pay an excessive heating bill.

“I have a 10-month-old son, so things are tight,” Finney said. “Right now I have a little heater and it has run up my power bill already. This is the first year I’ve needed this, but it changes things big time. It will at least get us through for a little while anyway.”

Lisa James, executive director of Haywood Christian Ministry, said this had been one of the busiest years for the ministry, adding that the organization has already spent $50,000 this year on food costs.

“It’s been our busiest year since 2008,” James said. “The overall need of people without heat or food has increased. We are about 200 visits away from surpassing the total from last year. I’d say in about two weeks, we’ll serve more than we did last year.”

Christine Abbott of Waynesville is also a single mom who is stressed about affording heat. She applied for the heating assistance for the first time this year.

“It will help me reduce the stress — propane heat is really expensive,” Abbott said. “I’m on a very tight budget being a single mom with no child support. This way I don’t have to worry about the extra expenses.”

James said the program, which has been ongoing during the seven years she has been involved, is needed now more than ever. She cited glitches in the food stamp program, the government shutdown and general economic woes as reasons the need for food and oil was increasing.

“If you add all those together, it’s just a compounded problem,” James said.

To qualify for assistance, there must be a preschooler in the home, or someone age 65 or older with a life-threatening illness as documented by a physician, James said.

Each client must prove income and expenses when applying. It must have been at least six months from the last time financial help had been received and at least one year from the last time heating assistance was received.

All those asking for help are well below the 150 percent of poverty level guidelines — an amount that means income for an individual would be $14,000 annually, or a $18,000 annually for a couple, said James. Anyone who qualifies for food stamps or disability would meet the standard.