The Transylvania Times -

Power Up! Provides Much Needed Support

 

Last updated 1/25/2021 at 2:59pm

Employee Marshall Gandalfo encourages Ace Hardware customers to round up their bills to make monetary donations for Sharing House's Power Up! Fundraiser. (Courtesy photo)

Depending on your home's insulation and heating source, Transylvania County residents experience winter remarkably dis-connected. The snow outside looks extremely different in a warm home looking out, than from a cold one, be it Lake Toxaway or Balsam Grove, Rosman or the mountain tops of Pisgah Forest.

It is many people's reality that in the winter months, utility bills pile on top of one another, and residents risk the terrifying actuality of energy shut-offs, running out of heating oil, propane or firewood.

A number of factors typically cascade from this problem. For example, people who cannot afford to heat their homes may opt to leave the faucets running on drip to prevent stagnant water from freezing in their pipes.

While this may prevent pipes bursting leading to an even larger problem, this will inevitably result in higher water bills. Or, in trailer homes, insulation is often insufficient and the heat may not reach all areas equally.

The resident may plug in multiple electric heaters, which are extremely energy-inefficient, and raise the electric bill.

Others may opt to use highly flammable propane tanks in-doors, potentially putting their family at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Furthermore, Transylvania County has an affordable housing crisis. There are many new homes being built with proper insulation, in addition to Airbnbs and hotels. However, there are not enough homes for individuals on fixed incomes or making minimum wage, $7.25/hour, which at full time is around $1,300 a month before taxes.

People are thus forced to choose rental properties that may be less-cared for, worn-for-time, out-of-date and less energy efficient.

While saving money on rent, often the heating ends up costing much more than the money saved.

Finding Solutions

There are many things that people can do to address this substantial problem.

The North Carolina Weatherization Assistance Program provides low-income citizens with assistance to reduce their utility bills by making their homes more energy efficient. According to their website, the 3,352 families who benefited from this program last year saved an average of $173 per household.

Sustainable tactics they use include installing insulation, reducing air infiltration and pressure imbalances, sealing and repairing ducts, and tuning and repairing heating and cooling units, according to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

Transylvania County property owners and renters who have drafty windows, for example, can receive assistance from this program.

The Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP) is a federally-funded program that provides one-time vendor payments to help eligible households pay their heating bills.

According to their website, "Households including a person aged 60 or older or disabled persons receiving services through the NC Division of Aging and Adult Services are eligible to sign up for assistance from Dec. 1 – 31. All other households may apply from Jan. 1 – March 31 or until funds are exhausted."

Applications are available through the Transylvania County Department of Social Services.

"Lately, COVID-19 has put a lot of stress of basic utilities with so many out of work for a few months, or indefinitely," said Jackie Curtis, crisis assistance manager at Sharing House. From her experience over the past five years, each qualifying household gets around $400 toward its heating bill from LIEAP while funding lasts. However, that could just be the cost of one tank of heating oil, while winters in Transylvania County require multiple.

While every January and February are Sharing House's busy months for financial crises assistance, Curtis said 2021 is a whole new ballgame.

She speaks with nearly 40 clients on busy days and has countless stories of residents who were unexpectedly quarantined from work due to the pandemic without pay, namely restaurant employees, health care workers, and families with children home from school and without childcare.

Curtis has been creative over this past year, interacting with clients without being in the same room as them.

She texts with neighbors in need, emails energy companies, slides paper applications through openings in glass doors with a mask on and electronically scans fuel verification documents.

Sharing House provides crises financial services for residents, including assistance with critical heating bills, of up to $200 per household per year.

In 2020 Sharing House provided $127,000 in heating assistance to over 738 families in crisis.

Power Up! Fundraiser

Sharing House is only capable of providing this much needed service through its significant fundraiser Power Up!

This program is sponsored by community residents and many faith groups.

In past years this program encouraged religious organizations, clubs and individuals to have fun and informative dinner parties, where the guests donated financial contributions towards neighbors' heating bills.This year, Sharing House will continue this fundraiser, with a new spin.

Some groups were creative this past November, packaging dinners into to-go containers and delivering them to homes. The hope is to continue this necessary service at this time.

Sharing House encourages the community to get inspired. Deliver boxed-up meals to friends, drive packaged containers to neighbors and then virtually eat together via Zoom, or sit outdoors and have a socially-distanced picnic.

For more information. go to http://www.sharinghouse.org/power-up-fundraiser. Informative flyers can be easily downloaded and printed or e-mailed for guests. If you would like to host one of these events, or would like to obtain more information, call (828) 884-2866 or email [email protected]

 
 

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