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McPhersonSentinel - McPherson, KS
  • BPU assists local families with winter utility bills

  • A lack of funds could mean a very chilly winter. For McPherson residents, that’s when Operation Warmth can come to their rescue.
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  • As the mercury dips during the colder seasons, utility bills rise.
    For those who were already struggling to make ends meet, this leaves some wondering if their bank accounts will be able to keep up.
    A lack of funds could mean a very chilly winter. For McPherson residents, that’s when Operation Warmth can come to their rescue.
    Trudy Alexander is just one McPherson customer who receives aid from Operation Warmth, a year-round program through the Board of Public Utilities created in 1982 to assist in paying bills. For Alexander, it was medical bills that pushed her to her limits. With no insurance, bills were and still are a struggle to pay, especially with two children to feed.
    “It’s rough,” she said. “When you get in that hole, it’s hard to get out of it.”
    Alexander said she makes too much money to receive food stamps and can only go to the McPherson County Food Bank every so often.
    “You want to be able to provide for them (children),” she said. “I was worried about loosing my electricity and my food.”
    She had looked for help in other ways, but it was Operation Warmth that gave her a ray of hope.
    “The program is wonderful,” she said. “It’s one less bill I have to worry about. It’s great people fund it and help people like me that get in a bind.”
    Now she has no late charges on her BPU bill.
    “There’s always something that sets you back, then again there can always be that silver lining,” she said.
    Marsha Foth of McPherson said this is the first year she has been helped by the program. She was having trouble meeting payments, as hours ran short at work and rent was high. But now that the program pays for some of the charges, she can use those funds toward other bills.
    “They’ve helped me a lot,” she said. “It just fits me so much better on my budget, especially in the winter. Before it was really hard. We tried and tried. We didn’t know how we were going to pay the bills. Now we’re at a better place.”
    Percentage of assistance from Operation Warmth is on a case-by-case basis, with priority going to low-income and unemployed individuals. Next on the list are the elderly, families with young children, those with illnesses or handicaps, and those dealing with emergencies, such as a fire or accident.
    It is a last-resort assistance program that helps prevent the interruption of electric and water service after other sources are exhausted, such as help from the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, Churches United in Ministry and the Salvation Army.
    Page 2 of 2 - Money is obtained through fundraisers, such as cookbook sales, golf tournaments and American Legion Family Nights. Tax-deductible donations also may be made to the city of McPherson by individuals, churches and businesses. The fund always is in need of donations.
    So far, 600 families have received assistance from Operation Warmth since its beginnings, with 40 families in 2012 alone.
    “It has definitely made a difference,” said Karyne Schrag, secretary to the Operation Warmth board. “It’s a good feeling to know there’s a program meeting the need within the community to keep customer utilities on. It’s good for people to know we’re here to help them.”
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