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Increase in need seen among villagers

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Every Christmas for the past 20 years, members of the Yellow Springs Recreation Soccer League have come together to help families in need. If there were soccer youth whose families were struggling, the group pooled resources to help pay for food, bills and gifts. The effort has grown over the past several years, and this year, according to soccer group member Jocelyn Hardman, the number of people associated with the group who needed help paying their utility bill seemed especially high.

So Hardman checked with the Village to see how people in the village in general were faring. According to the Village Utility Department Clerk Susie Butler, who has also been a longtime soccer league member, as of this week 181 local households are over 60 days behind in their utility bills. One household owes as much as $1,200, and another resident who is in bankruptcy and will not face collection immediately, owes $2,000, Butler said. The total amount of 60-days past due money owed to the Village is $87,315.

“I didn’t realize that many people had fallen behind, and it’s so many different families that we decided to put the call out to a wider group,” Hardman said. She sent a message out to her personal e-mail list, and then started a Facebook page called Keep Yellow Springs Warm for the Holidays in hopes of spreading the word that many families are either still out of work or are struggling from the general economic slump and could use a leg up.

Around this time last year, the number of households past due on their utility bills was 166, Butler said.

“Times are rougher,” but every year people struggle at this time, she said. She does what she can to send reminder letters, make calls and work out payment plans with residents based on their individual situations. She also sends about 30–35 additional letters each month to those whose struggles she knows personally through her community contacts as a part-time Yellow Springs police dispatcher, school bus driver, parent and longtime villager.

The Village typically does have a source of donated funds the Yellow Springs Police Department uses at this time every year to help families with a variety of needs. But this year, while the need is up, donations have decreased. While the YSPD usually receives about $5,000 to disperse to local families, this year the department received about $2,000, Police Chief John Grote said. The number of struggling families is up a bit to about 12 so far this year, for which the department has spent about $2,000 in gift cards for gas, food and clothing parents can buy for their kids. And the number of children obviously underclothed has ballooned as well. Typically around Christmas, for instance, Grote takes a group of Mills Lawn students coat and boot shopping and spends about $600. This year, he spent almost $1,700.

“We’ve taken in [funds], but we’ve plowed through that,” Grote said. “We’re still getting calls, but I’m down to nothing now.”

So Village Clerk of Courts June Allison put out a call on the Village discussion board and has talked to people at parties about donating. And some Village employees have dipped into their own pockets to help stretch the fund as well.

There are county agencies to help with utility bills, such as Community Action Partnership’s Heat and Energy Assistance Program, or HEAP, which provides one-time assistance of up to $175. HEAP also provides a Percentage of Income Payment Plan (PIPP) Plus for emergency assistance. And to encourage long-term solutions to heating costs, the county also provides for a family of four making less than $66,000 up to $5,000 to weatherize a home for greater efficiency, according to the Community Action Web site.

Gas bills across the Miami Valley region are down about 40 percent this year due to a national drop in the cost of natural gas, according to Vectren spokesperson Chase Kelley. Greater affordability has caused the number of disconnects in the region to decrease by about 30 percent since last year, she said. But the number of customers who qualify for low-income assistance has increased by 3,000 customers from last year’s 30,000, Kelley said.

And locally, clearly there are villagers who are behind in their payment cycles and will only get more so as the winter grinds on. While sometimes residents do struggle with making the right decision about how to spend their money, Grote said, Village employees do their best to find the people who truly need a hand.

Donations to help villagers with utility or other expenses can be sent to the Yellow Springs Police Department, with checks made out to same.


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