Helping Hands volunteer Valerie Porter, left, and fan recipient Brenda Edmonds, both of Columbus, show a new box fan that will help a Lowndes County household cope with summer's heat. They are pictured Wednesday at Helping Hands, 223 22nd St. N., where donations of box fans — or monies to purchase them — are being accepted. Fans are distributed, by request, to those who have no air conditioning or inadequate air. Photo by: Jennifer Mosbrucker/Dispatch Staff
July 20, 2019 10:02:29 PM
As extreme heat alerts for much of the country went out this past week, Brenda Edmonds in Columbus was thankful for an act of kindness. The new box fan she'd been given at Helping Hands made a noted difference in the second-floor room her grandbaby will soon sleep in. Edmonds, 49, has been readying the apartment she, her son and his child are moving into. She makes time for it between her shifts at a fast food eatery in east Columbus.
"That fan helps a lot. It's extremely hot outside and even though there's some central air, it doesn't reach the second floor very well," she said. "It really helps in the baby's bedroom."
Edmonds is one of many recipients who have so far received a box fan this summer thanks to an annual fan drive sponsored by Helping Hands of Columbus and United Way of Lowndes County. Helping Hands Executive Director Nancy Guerry expects to give out about 200 fans before Mississippi's scorching heat gives way to a cooler season. New box fans -- or funds designated for them -- are donated by individuals, clubs, churches and businesses.
"It's a great program, and people that need a fan are so appreciative of it," Guerry said. "I'd say 99 percent of the time we're giving them to older members of the community. Some don't have air conditioning, or some of them say they've got to keep their utility bills down or they won't be able to afford their medicine."
She continued, "We also see so many people who are in mobile homes or older homes that have no insulation. And we had one lady who needed a fan because she couldn't stand having air conditioning on because of her arthritis."
Individual situations may vary, but the need for the summer fan drive that began 14 years ago doesn't diminish.
United Way of Lowndes County Executive Director Renee Sanders joined that agency in the summer of 2015. The fan drive was the first project she experienced.
"What I have noticed is that the need, the requests for fans, has never decreased," she said, "especially when the heat index is blistering."
A 'God whisper'
Jan Ballard was director of United Way of Lowndes County when the fan drive was started in 2005.
"The summer we implemented the fan drive there was a long stretch of excessive heat. We received an increase in calls from people who had no working cooling systems, or their systems were inadequate," Ballard told The Dispatch.
Local federally funded programs served only a small number of people, she noted. And United Way funding was dedicated to the agencies under its umbrella. Paying for repairs or installing HVAC systems at multiple residences was beyond the agency's reach.
"It was a God whisper that providing new box fans would help a lot of people," Ballard said. The call went out, and donations came in. "We partnered with Helping Hands to conduct intakes to ensure the fans would be distributed to those they were intended for."
Who is at risk?
Extreme heat is especially debilitating for those who are older, or very young, or with underlying health problems.
Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ashley Harris said, "My specialty is taking care of older adults. It's very common for seniors to not take in adequate fluids, especially in summer. And we actually have people in our community who don't have central air; they are at extreme risk for becoming dehydrated."
Many older adults are also on medications that can affect their ability to handle heat, Harris said. Fans can make a difference.
"That stifling heat can be dangerous where there's no air movement," the doctor remarked. "A fan can help. While it doesn't necessarily lower the temperature, air passing over the skin encourages (sweat) evaporation, which lowers the body temperature."
Checking on the most vulnerable, especially during a heat wave, is recommended.
Harris said, "It's really important in these summer months that older people, especially if they live alone, have a friend or family that can check in on them."
Volunteers with Columbus-based Contact Helpline do that year-round with daily Reassurance Phone Calls to more than 800 clients in a multi-county area.
"We start at 6:55 a.m. and it goes until 6:30 p.m.," said Ular Williams, assistant to the director at Contact. During the hottest months of the year, volunteers try to make sure seniors and others they call aren't getting overheated.
"We ask them what type of air they have in the home and if they need a fan, we make them aware of what is available. We try to work hand-in-hand with Helping Hands," Williams said.
Donations to the summer fan drive are always welcome, no matter the size.
Through in-house fundraisers, Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle has been a staunch supporter of the project. This year, they have donated $1,280 and 18 fans. They also contribute to the Helping Hands food pantry, Salvation Army toy drive, Home Delivered Meals program and the Cancer Foundation at Baptist.
Guerry and Helping Hands volunteers like Valerie Porter are grateful, as well, for smaller donations. Every fan helps another household.
"You would be surprised at people who are living without air units, or people who may be on fixed incomes, trying to do anything they can to minimize the cost of living," said Porter, who began volunteering at the agency alongside her mother, Nettie Clay, about 24 years ago.
Sanders said, "The community could easily take for granted that everyone has air conditioned homes or the finances to pay higher utility bills in the summer, but that's not the case for all residents. United Way and Helping Hands are very grateful for the community support and opportunity to address an unmet need."
Guerry added, "It's one of the easiest things we can do: somebody may say I can't give a lot of money, but I can pick up a $16 fan and give it for somebody who really needs it."
To request a box fan, bring a current light bill to Helping Hands at 223 22nd St. N. in Columbus, or call 662-328-8301. Recipients must reside in Lowndes County.
People with generous hearts want to help those not as fortunate, said Ballard
"Buying a new box fan isn't a big purchase for most of us, but it can be to an elderly person or someone who is differently abled on a very fixed income," she said. "It has been a blessing to see that this program is still going strong."
Editor's note: For more information or to request a fan, contact Helping Hands, 662-328-8301. Fan donations can be dropped off at the agency at 223 22nd St. N. Monday-Thursday 8 a.m.-2:30 p.m. or Fridays 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Helping Hands' mailing address is P.O. Box 1241, Columbus, MS 39703.
Lower risk of heat related illness
■ Drink plenty of fluids such as water or fruit or vegetable juices.
■ Avoid drinking alcohol or caffeine.
■ Keep an un-air conditioned house as cool as possible: Limit use of the oven; keep shades, blinds or curtains closed during the hottest part of the day. Open windows at night. Set up a fan in a window or in a hallway, to create a cross breeze.
■ If a house is hot, try to spend time during midday somewhere with air conditioning -- a shopping mall, library, senior or community center, a friend's house.
■ Shower, bathe or sponge off with cool water.
■ Lie down and rest in the coolest place available.
(Source: National Institution on Aging, nia.nih.gov)
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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