Higher energy bills making local ministries desperate for funds

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GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. -- Americans may be seeing the highest overall heating bills ever this winter as the Energy Department estimates an average of $2,494 per household, 20% more than last year.

Fuel prices are not expected to fluctuate much, but customers will have to use more energy to keep warm because this winter is expected to be significantly colder than last.

"This winter is going to be rough for a lot of families," said Reverend Carl Vierling, DSS Community Resource Network Coordinator.

The Community Resource Network is a group of seven organizations in High Point that all help allocate state and local funding for emergency utility assistance.

"Every day when you come into these different ministries, there's a line of people to get help. And a lot of people are getting turned away already," Vierling explained.

The City of High Point gave Community Resource Network $100,000 this year to help.

Nearly $905,500 in funding for utility assistance went to people in High Point alone last fiscal year. But because of budget cuts, the state gave $1.2 million total this year to all of Guilford County.

Vierling says it's simply not enough money to match the need they are expecting across the county this year.

"The agencies that are doing this right now are really running into horror stories, heartbreaking... I know for sure we've got people who've mixed animal food with human food to make their groceries go further," said Vierling.

"People are having to make choices between medication, food, utilities and rent. And those choices are being made every day," he added.

Meanwhile in Greensboro, Urban Ministry does not get any of that state funding. Their money comes from grants and donations. They are seeing the same high numbers of people who need help.

"We are finding that we are going over budget every month trying to meet people's needs," said Director of Emergency Assistance Tyra Clymer. "We are very, very concerned because we're seeing an unusual amount of people coming in for help already."

In September and October so far alone, Urban Ministry has given over $53,000 in utility assistance.

"We are seeing people who used to give donations... now lining up for them. We need help. We really need help," added Clymer.

They are all depending on community donations of money, food and clothing to continue providing emergency assistance through the winter.