As the autumn mornings continue to grow colder and as the chilling frost begins to blanket our lawns and vehicles, attention needs to be shifted to how some of the High Country’s unfortunate residents will keep warm this winter and what county officials as well as energy companies are doing to ensure that no one suffers from a frigid mountain night this winter.
In our previous installment, Ned Fowler commented on how some of the area’s residents once stuffed potato sacks and old newspapers into the cracks of the walls in their homes to keep out the numbing night air only three decades ago. Fowler also reiterated how residents of dilapidated mobile homes often struggle to keep warm during the winter due to the structure’s draftiness and inadequate insulation.
“I’ve heard accounts of some people actually sleeping in layers of clothing to keep warm at night when they go to bed,” Fowler explained. “It is actually really sad and unfortunate.”
The recent spike in petroleum products not only affects motorists. Families with a low or fixed income are beginning to feel the sting of a colder winter due to scarce funds and the higher cost of product.
With a struggling economy and the rising costs of energy prices, public officials are beginning to take notice of the potential hardships some of the county’s residents will face this winter. A hard-hit demographic will be the elderly citizens or those who live on a fixed income.
In an effort to provide assistance in funding energy costs for homes who receive a low or fixed income, the Department of Social Services will begin taking applications for fuel assistance checks. The department will begin receiving applications on Nov. 3 and the application process will cease on Nov. 14. Eligibility to receive assistance checks will stem in part from the income prospective clients received in October.
Recipients of food stamps and other supplemental services will be automatically screened as well.
Blue Ridge Electric Membership Cooperation will also begin a heating assistance incentive in the form of Operation Round Up. The program will provide low income families assistance in paying their electric bill as well as help allocate funds for other basic amenities such as clothing, food, and shelter. According to Renee Whitener of BREMCO in West Jefferson, Operation Round Up raises funds when contributors choose to have their utility bill rounded up to the nearest whole dollar. For example, suppose a family has an electric bill of $84.58, if the family agrees to participate in the program, their utility bill will be rounded up to $85 and the remaining 42 cents will be deposited into Operation Round Up fund.
Each program participant’s average contribution will consist of approximately 50 cents a month, or $6 a year.
If the majority of BREMCO’s membership in Ashe, Watauga, Caldwell, and Alleghany counties were to round up their monthly electric bill, the plight of low income families could be drastically lessened this winter.
All of the proceeds that are contributed will assist families in the four-county membership district and will not leave the area. Once donations are contributed and calculated, the Blue Ridge Electric Membership Foundation Advisory Committee will review grant requests and decide which organizations will benefit most from the funding to assist struggling citizens.
Whitener noted how the recent spike in fuel prices did not necessitate the need for Operation Round Up.
“We have had a similar program for many years and we saw the needs growing in the community and wanted to do something bigger,” Whitener said. “We’ve seen it do a lot of good in the community and our mission from the beginning has been to stay local in the area.”
BREMCO Director of Community Relations Greg Scheer commented on BREMCO’s future aspirations for Operation Round Up.
“Currently, 29 percent of our members participate in the program, our goal is to eventually get 50 percent of our membership to participate in the program to raise even more funds,” Scheer said. “As you could imagine we could easily raise a lot of funding.”
Scheer also named a handful of the several organizations that are participating in the program. Ashe County Sharing Center, the Ashe County Rescue Squad, Ashe County Public Library, Ashe Free Medical Clinic, and Ashe Outreach Ministries are just a few of the program’s beneficiaries.
Members of Blue Ridge Electric can participate in the program by clicking on the “contribute form” icon which is located via the “In the Community Link” at www.blueridgeemc.com.
In part three of the Post’s investigation on Ashe County’s housing crisis, we will delve into the hazards that dirty chimneys, space heaters, and kerosene heaters can pose for people who are desperately trying to keep warm this winter.