Billie Crowell has lived in her home on Nashville Ferry Road for 30 years. For most of that time, she had to make do with a single window-unit air-conditioner, which meant many uncomfortable Mississippi summers.
“Oh, the central unit went about 18, 19 years ago,” said Crowell, 73. “I’ve got a window unit in the kitchen, but it doesn’t cool the whole house.”
Like any senior citizens who live on a fixed income, there didn’t seem to be a solution.
That changed about a week ago.
“I heard some people saying you could get a fan at Helping Hands, so I decided to go see about it,” she said. “I’ve had my fan about a week now and it makes a difference. In the day, I’ll put it in the hall, and at night I put it in the bedroom.”
Crowell is one of 85 county residents to receive a fan through Helping Hands Ministry, a program offered by the United Way of Lowndes County. Helping Hands provides mortgage, rent, prescription medication, utility and food assistance based on emergency needs. But this time of the year, the organization’s fan drive is one of the most sought forms of assistance.
“Most of the people who come in for fans are elderly,” Helping Hands director Nancy Guerry said. “For them, it’s not that the always don’t have air-conditioning. They may be like Billie, who doesn’t have adequate air-conditioning. Then, there are a lot of people who are living on a limited income who have air-conditioning, but can’t afford to use it.
“For someone whose monthly income is $750, when the electric bill goes up by $100 suddenly, they just can’t afford it,” she added. “I’d say probably half of the senior citizens in our community don’t have adequate air-conditioning.”
The dangers associated with heat are compounded by age.
According to a University of Chicago study, 40 percent of all heat-related deaths in the U.S. are people over age 65.
There are several reasons why the elderly are especially vulnerable to heat, according to the study. People’s ability to notice changes in their body temperature decreases with age. Many seniors also have underlying health conditions that make them less able to adapt to heat. Furthermore, many medicines that seniors take can contribute to dehydration.
Guerry said Helping Hands distributed 140 to 150 fans last summer.
“Really, the demand for fans started out pretty slow because we had such a mild spring and early summer,” she said. “But with the recent heat wave, we’ve gotten a lot more people asking for fans.”
Guerry said all of the fans are either donated by individuals or organizations or are purchased through donated funds.
“We have some groups that will drop off five or six fans, but we also groups that donate money to buy fans. Baptist Memorial Hospital is selling off some surplus and plans to give us the money they get from that. We’ll use that to buy fans. Anyone who wants to donate money can designate that the money be spent on fans and we’re happy to do that.”
For her part, Crowell said getting a fan is a little addition that makes a big difference.
“I’m a lot more comfortable now,” she said. “I really appreciate Helping Hands doing this for me.”
If interested in a fan, contact Helping Hands at 662-328-8301.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is email@example.com.
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