Recently, more than 50 members of the Haywood County community gathered in a church fellowship hall to brainstorm ways to help with the rising level of need. In the middle of the meeting, a woman and her son entered the church, looking a little out of place. The woman needed to pay her $300 heating bill and didn’t know where else to turn. Without hesitation and within 20 minutes, the group pitched in enough money to cover almost the entire bill.
For every piece of bad news, it seems there are just as many instances of communities stepping up to help those in need.
“It’s been unbelievable, and I can’t even begin to express how grateful we are,” said Patsy Dowling, director of the non-profit Mountain Projects.
Dowling recounts how kids at Tuscola High School slept outside in the cold for a glimpse of how those without heat or shelter live, then donated the money they raised to Mountain Projects’ Share the Warmth fund, which goes toward heating oil and weatherization projects.
Amy Grimes-McLure, director of the Community Table in Sylva, says when her organization needed help, the community answered.
“Our shelves were getting really low this fall, and I made a call for people to hold food drives,” she said.
The organization that typically holds a Thanksgiving food drive to benefit the Community Table had to instead concentrate all its resources on heating projects.
“Regrettably, they weren’t able to do that this year, but we wanted to help keep this going and make it a community effort,” said Jon Brown, director of Christian Education for First United Methodist Church in Sylva.
So seven local youth groups stepped up and packed 240 boxes of Thanksgiving meals to give to those in need.
Recently, the Community Table was faced with another obstacle when its boiler went out. The organization couldn’t afford to fix or replace it, said Grimes-McClure, so Jackson Paper Manufacturing sent over two electricians to make the boiler work again.
Organizations in WNC say cash donations have remained steady, even when agencies nationwide have reported a decrease in giving.
“For the first time, I had somebody call me the other day and say they wanted to give money, and where could they give,” said Kim Cunningham, director of food and nutrition programs for the Swain County Department of Social Services. “People realize how bad it is.”
Both Dowling of Mountain Projects and Lisa James of Haywood Christian Ministries said donations are slightly above average. Grimes-McClure said she worried what kind of response her organization would receive from its winter giving campaign, especially since it was already operating on a tight budget. She was shocked at the amount people gave.
“We had a fantastic response — more than expected,” she said. “We feel so fortunate to live in a community where everybody looks out for one another.”