Through the years I have learned that cold weather - for obvious reasons - brings out the financial plight of many within our community. Most people reading this column today in the warm comfort of their home don't realize the number of Sikeston residents who struggle with heating bills this time of year. Ask the Board of Municipal Utilities, they know. Ask any group like DAEOC, they know. Ask the Atmos providers, they know, too.
It's commonly accepted that much of our population lives from paycheck to paycheck or from government assistance check to government assistance check. That is true here as it is in countless other locations. When heating bills spike because of colder weather, this population lacks the resources to pay those bills.
Our past history of providing some assistance in Sikeston shows that the overwhelming number of requests this time of year center around payments for electricity or gas heat. Those requests far outnumber the requests for Christmas toys for children or food for the elderly.
I personally handle literally dozens of requests each week from people in need of financial assistance to pay heating bills. And when I verify those needs, I always find that this population is chronically behind on their bills but that this time of year - when heating requires more electricity - they face a hurdle beyond their means.
I say all of the above because most people within our community don't realize the basic needs that go unmet by the remainder of our population. If you're sitting in a warm home, you may not realize just how many people here don't have that advantage. We tend to focus this time of year on the children and their wants during the holiday season. But we must keep in mind that many of those toys will be delivered to homes that lack adequate heat.
The storm that struck the Midwest this week narrowly missed our region. It's cold but we don't have a foot of snow and ice with temperatures in the single digits. Were that not the case, I cannot imagine the hardships that some would face here.
As a society or a community, are we obligated or responsible for assuring that every citizen has adequate heat during the winter months? It seems so basic to most of us that we focus on toys and decorations and other items and rarely think of fundamental needs like a warm bedroom in which children sleep. But that is a daily concern for probably 25 percent of our population.
The problem is not with the price of utilities. The problem - as most problems do - boils down to the individual in most cases. Having children brings with it the responsibility to feed, house and clothe those children. And part of that responsibility is to provide an adequate, safe environment in which they are raised. Though we may all agree, some people simply cannot or will not accept that level of responsibility.
The point of this column is that our community is generous beyond our means at times. We have that reputation and it is a source of tremendous pride. But sometimes we target our generosity in the wrong direction. We must learn to consider basic needs before we consider wants.
Too often when someone tells you they want assistance to buy holiday gifts, what they really need is help paying a utility bill and a lesson in budgeting their limited resources. What seems so basic and so simple to most of us is a daily struggle for far too many.