Assistance available for those in need during heat wave

Staying cool is more than just a comfort issue for David Hicks of Myrtle Beach, who suffers from hypertension and had a stroke 3 years ago. For Hicks, hot weather is a serious health issue.

"It's very essential that my environment be controlled, as far as temperature," Hicks said.

It doesn't help that Hicks and his wife have to get by on a single Social Security disability check each month. The last monthly power bill for their one bedroom apartment came to $120.

To keep the lights on and air conditioner running, the Hicks had to seek help from agencies including Helping Hand of Myrtle Beach and the Waccamaw Economic Opportunity Council.

And they got it.

"Just a few days ago, with utility, with electrical service, the Waccamaw EOC kind of came to our rescue there with the electrical power company and helped us out," Hicks said.

There is a waiting list for utility bill assistance, said EOC executive director James Pasley, jr., though people with health conditions or other emergency needs may be eligible for more immediate help.

Helping Hands counselor Lisa Buie said demand for all types of assistance goes up along with the temperature, as some low income families find themselves forced to make difficult decisions about whether to pay an overdue power bill or buy groceries.

"So we're actually seeing a big increase also in the demand for food, and people are actually telling us that it's because of increased utility bills and that type of thing," Buie said.

Buie said the agency can't pay a family's entire bill, but may be able to offer limited help on a portion of it. The amount of assistance is determined on a case-by-case basis, she said.

"What we'll normally do is talk to the utility company and find out what they need to keep (the power) on for 30 days and that gives them time to catch up, and then they'll have to pay a portion of it."

Buie said local utility companies have been good about working with customers to avoid power shut-offs during exceptionally hot or cold weather.

"They'll go the extra mile to work with you."

The Horry County Council on Aging has a limited number of box fans and window air conditioners to hand out to seniors and shut-ins at no charge.

"We've gotten two grants, one from Metglas and one from Hitachi that have helped buy fans and small air conditioners," said Jeanie Rhodes, office assistant at the Grand Strand Senior Center.

But Rhodes said there's a strong demand for more and donations of fans and air conditioners is welcome. Donors are urged to call 248-5523 to find out how to help.

The Horry County chapter of the Salvation Army gave out window fans earlier this summer and currently has no more fans in stock to hand out, according to officials at the Army's Conway office. But the office still gets calls from people requesting fans and the staff will give them out as newly donated fans come in, officials said. Fans can be dropped off at local Salvation Army locations or donors can call 488-2769 for more information.

David Hicks said he and his wife are concerned about those in the community who need whatever assistance they can get during the long, hot summer.

"Not for ourselves as much as concerned about the elderly and disabled and the people that are on fixed incomes that just don't have the funds and it could be very detrimental to them and their health."