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Published Tue, Feb 05, 2013 08:00 PM
Modified Sat, Feb 09, 2013 05:35 PM

Cold weather increases need for help with heat and power

- ajames@newsobserver.com
Dale Matthews, director of Clayton Area Ministries, serves many roles at the charity, including being an advocate for people who are in danger of having their power turned off or who can't pay a bill, like Ennis Allen, Jr.
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- ajames@newsobserver.com

CLAYTON -- Grocery bags filled with cans cover the couch and line the wall inside the building at Clayton Area Ministries, a tiny, yet powerful, office that helps feed the hungry and keep their lights and heat working.

A line of patient men and women in dire circumstances waited to show their ID cards, voucher, and power bill, so that they could hopefully be approved to receive help.

“Now is the greatest need for money donations to pay for heat and electricity,” said Dale Matthews, director of Clayton Area Ministries. “It’s cold and people need something to heat their home and cook with.”

The main purpose of CAM is to serve as a short-term food pantry. The charity, located at 704 East Main St, is open from 1-3 p.m. each day and Clayton residents who can prove their address with an I.D. can be supported with food once a month for five months. To be eligible to receive the food, residents must also show a social security card for each person in the house, a past due bill, copies of all other current bills, the last three consecutive pay stubs, or proof of unemployment benefits, or declaration of benefits of disability. There can be exceptions, and each case is handled personally by Matthews.

Last week, Matthews served as a liason for Ennis Allen, Jr., who has come to CAM in the past for food.

The need now, though, is different.

Allen needed help with his power bill. He said he could not pay the bill. Looking at the size of it, a whopping $981 for the month of January, Matthews said she could understand why he’d have trouble. She asked him if he had already called the power company to find out how it could be so much, and he said he did, but they didn’t lower it or explain. He didn’t have any Christmas lights using up the power. It had nearly tripled since the summer months. As an advocate for him, Matthews also called the power company. They would not lower the bill, which they said was directly related to how much heat was used. But, she was able to set him up with a plan to pay the same amount each month, a huge step to prevent the exorbitant fees in the future.

“It’s the mobile home and it not being insulated well,” said Matthews. The bill for last year at the same time was close to the bill for this year. Matthews helped him pay what it takes to keep the power bill on, and in the future, the new payment plan will offset the costs.

Donations from local churches and individuals make it possible to provide such services to people in need.

CAM provides crisis assistance with utility bills once every 12 months to those who qualify. The service is available between November and April. CAM pays directly to the power company.

Though the shelves of food at the center are fully stocked now, Matthews said the months when they see a real slump are March and April, after the donations amassed during the holiday season have run out. The center feeds an average of 500 people a month.

“You’ve got to keep food coming in at a pace that keeps up with demand,” said Matthews.

James: 919-553-7234

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