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United Way seeing increased need for help paying utility bills

Bruce-Grey chapter reports 136 per cent increase in average arrears for electricity customers, with 352 applicants to utility assistance program this year
United Way
United Way Bruce Grey Executive Director Francesca Dobbyn (right) explains the organization’s Kettle Hamper program to Grey Highlands Mayor Paul McQueen, Meaford Deputy Mayor Shirley Keaveney and Georgian Bluffs Deputy Mayor Sue Charlton (left).

The United Way Bruce Grey continues to see increased need for its Utility Assistance Program.

Local United Way Executive Director Francesca Dobbyn attended Grey County council’s meeting on August 11 to update council about her organization’s programs and community service efforts.

“We are a 100-per-cent fundraised organization,” Dobbyn told councillors, noting that every day United Way staff get up in the morning and think about how to raise money for their programs. “We are always out there fundraising to do the work we do.”

Dobbyn said the number of applications for the United Way’s Utility Assistance Program (UAP) is up to 352 over 323 last year. She said the organization has seen a 136 per cent increase in average arrears for electricity consumers. The UAP provides grants to low-income residents to help them with their utility costs including: electricity, furnace oil, propane, natural gas and cord wood.

Dobbyn said they are seeing a considerable drop in requests for assistance with furnace oil, as the availability of the much cheaper natural gas continues to grow.

“We’re always cheering on the natural gas,” she said.

Dobbyn said the United Way’s Backpack Program continues to be busy with 1,600 requests this year. The program provides school supplies to local children from the early grades all the way up to high school. Dobbyn said to date the program is estimated to have saved local parents $2 million.

“It is up from last year, we’re a little concerned,” she said.

Other United Way programs include: a financial literacy education program that had 336 clients in 2021, the 211 information phone line and the Kettle Hamper program, which supplies food and other support to homeless people.

“You’re a critical part of our ability to get things done. We’re grateful to you,” Warden Selwyn Hicks said.

CAO Kim Wingrove announced at the meeting that the annual warden’s banquet is being turned into a gala fundraiser for the United Way this year. It will be held on Nov. 4 and will include a dinner and silent auction.

The Blue Mountains Mayor Alar Soever noted that many residents of his community are on the border with Simcoe County and he asked about the relationship between the two United Ways.

Dobbyn said they collaborate with Simcoe-Muskoka on a regular basis, as well as with the Beaver Valley Outreach (BVO).

“We do work together. If somebody calls our office from Craigleith, we will try and help them connect with the right organization,” she said.

Soever praised Dobbyn for their spirit of collaboration.

“Thank you for supporting BVO. They are our main contact for most social services,” he said.

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About the Author: Chris Fell, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Chris Fell covers The Blue Mountains and Grey Highlands under the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada
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