One local organization wants the community to know if residents are in need and unable to pay energy bills during the hot summer months, they can contact First Call for Help, an “information and referral program.”
Director Denise Wimp says since 1999, the call-line has served to direct residents of Bollinger, Scott, Stoddard, Cape Girardeau, and Perry counties with various needs, not only in the energy sector.
“Industry-wide, utility assistance and rent are usually the two biggest needs that people face,” says Wimp.
But during the heat in the summer and during the winter when utility payments rise, most of their calls are referred to organizations that can help pay those bills and keep the utilities from being shut off.
“One of the things that we try not to do is to refer somebody to a place that doesn’t have financial assistance at that time,” she says.
Some places provide more help during the winter than the summer, she says, and though the income guidelines are the same, usually those in need can only get help once in the summer while they can get help more than once in the winter.
She says the East Missouri Action Agency provides much of the utility assistance during the summer, and they receive funding from the state and the federal government.
Whenever people call, she says the staff does an assessment of their needs and conditions to see which may qualify for. They ask about whether anyone in the home is pregnant, disabled, a veteran, and other relevant family information.
“We want to make sure, first of all, that we’re searching the right county for them,” she says. “And then with the need, we’ll search for whatever resources will be available for that need based on their age, what town they live in--those things.”
They also look into what the root causes of the problems are, such as if they are low on food. If someone has lost their job and cannot afford the necessities, Wimp says, they are going to look into helping them in touch with employment programs as well.
“We try to look at the big picture,” she says.
Wimp says people facing disconnect notices and potential homelessness often go overlooked in the southeast Missouri community.
“A lot of times we live in our own bubbles, and we don’t realize the need that’s in our communities,” she says. “You don’t see homelessness in southeast Missouri like you do in a large city where you might see people sleeping on a park bench.”
First Call for Help can be reached at 573-334-4357 or at firstcallforhelpsemo.org.