For one Douglas County family, getting assistance from Warm Hearts is the difference between keeping warm during the winter and going without heat.
A mother of two children said her family has received Warm Hearts assistance for four years. She said the farm where she lives is heated by propane, and when the family can't afford propane, there's no heat.
"With propane, when you run out, you run out," she said.
The woman said she doesn't know what her family would do without assistance from Warm Hearts, a volunteer group that raises money to help low-income Douglas County residents with winter heating bills.
Warm Hearts hopes to raise $70,000 for this winter season.
Warren Rhodes, treasurer of the group, said Friday that $55,018 had been raised. The group's campaign officially ended Jan. 15, but when the goal had not been met, the campaign was extended. Warm Hearts will continue to take donations throughout the year.
SHERRI CANNON, director of the Ballard Community Center, said that Warm Hearts had received 78 applications for assistance as of Friday morning. Cannon said social service agencies across Lawrence took 37 applications this week. Applications appear to be on the rise, she said.
An elderly woman who has received Warm Hearts assistance for two years, including this winter, said she heard about the group through other senior citizen programs in the county. The woman, a widow, said she "needed a little assistance" during the winters.
"My house is a big old house," she said, explaining that her gas bills usually are substantial in the winter.
She said people on a fixed income like herself often are faced with either having heat or not.
Sometimes it comes down to "you either pay this bill or the other one," she said.
FOR EXAMPLE, she said her homeowner's insurance was due recently, along with other utility bills. She applied to Warm Hearts because she found herself a little short financially.
During the winter, she said, she needs some kind of supplement to her income.
The woman said Warm Hearts is a "blessing for people in the community."
She said Lawrence also has been blessed by a relatively mild winter. But she pointed out that "we still have a ways to go."
Bonnie Wells, public relations coordinator for Warm Hearts, said in a recent interview that she thought donations might have been slow because of the relatively mild weather. People probably are more apt to donate to a campaign that raises money for heating bills when it's cold out, she said.
WARM HEARTS raised $59,000 last winter. The group assisted 1,054 local residents last winter, including 89 single-parent families and 562 children. The average assistance per household was $165.
People who request assistance must have a shut-off notice from an electric or gas utility and must have made an effort to make a payment during the period for which they are requesting assistance. For assistance with propane, Cannon said Warm Hearts contacts propane vendors and lets them know that an applicant is almost out of fuel. For example, the applicant's tank might be down to 10 percent. Cannon said Warm Hearts will make an arrangement with the vendor to fill the propane tank. A full tank usually lasts about three months, Cannon said.
Warm Hearts makes payments directly to utility companies, and in the case of propane, directly to propane vendors. Donations to Warm Hearts may be sent to P.O. Box 1555, Lawrence, 66044.