How to Help
Donations to the "Turn-it-On Fund" can be mailed to Trinity Lutheran Church, 1245 N.H., Lawrence, KS 66044. Checks can be made out to the "Turn-it-On Fund."
Even with 80-degree temperatures outside Wednesday, charities and agencies who provide utilities assistance in Douglas County are expecting to have to help a record number of people with their heating bills this winter.
Their concerns include higher fuel prices and tough economic times for families. The state's major natural gas provider is predicting costs 5 percent to 20 percent higher than last winter's bills because of the recent spike in the price for the fuel.
"It's a very dire situation right now for a lot of people," said Steve Ozark, volunteer coordinator for the Lawrence Community Interfaith Initiative in Lawrence.
Jeanette Collier, director of East Central Kansas Economic Opportunity Corp., said Wednesday morning that she had fielded five calls from families since the afternoon before. The cost to restore their utilities would be about $8,000.
"The need is there. There are a lot of consumers out there who do not have their gas on at this point in time," Collier said.
ECKAN is one of five agencies in the area that help process applications for utilities assistance, like the Warm Hearts of Douglas County fund.
One of her main concerns though is that much utilities assistance is available only during the winter. Families who already have their gas turned off, for example, wouldn't be eligible for that help later, she said.
Ozark said that's why the Interfaith Initiative recently sent letters to churches and organizations asking for an annual donation into their budgets to the "Turn-it-on Fund" to help people all year with utilities, not just in winter.
He said otherwise homelessness can require families to draw on other community services, increasing cost.
Since 2006, the "Turn-it-on Fund" has raised about $11,550 to help 75 households with utilities assistance. Only three households have needed repeat donations, Ozark said.
Leaders at Black Hills Energy have been preparing for how to help customers this winter as energy costs have increased and the economic picture has worsened. The company recently took over Aquila's natural gas operations in Kansas.
"There will be people who have never had this problem before who suddenly find they do have a problem making ends meet with all the obligations they've got," said Curt Floerchinger, a Black Hills spokesman for Kansas and Colorado operations.
Assistance like the cold-weather rule in Kansas runs Nov. 1 through March 31.
"Call us as soon as they can because we have payment options we can offer. We can also get in touch with agencies. : After they've been turned off, it's too late," Floerchinger said.
The company also recently decided to extend Aquila's practice to match customer donations to Warm Hearts of Douglas County, which provided assistance to more than 486 county households last January to April to help with heating bills.
John Sayler, the Warm Hearts president, said the organization plans to do its traditional push for donations after Thanksgiving. It begins providing assistance in January. Organizers hope to raise more than the $80,000 they brought in last year.
"We expect to have a very strong need for donations," Sayler said.