By Randy Arrington
LURAY, Aug. 2 — Lois Shaffer, longtime director of Page One, says some folks are being left in the dark.
“Since March, they are cutting off” people with delinquent utility bills, Shaffer said. Prior to that, for much of 2020 and 2021, utility providers, including the county’s three towns (for water and sewer), were reluctant to push collections and cut off service during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But now, more and more the bills are coming due.
“We’re seeing electric bills anywhere from $800 to $4,800,” Shaffer said of clients that come to her organization for help with overdue accounts.
Page One has a committee that evaluates applications for assistance based on merit and the applicant’s willingness to help volunteer in one of Page One’s shops in Luray or Shenandoah, or the food bank on Bank Street in Luray. The committee tracks who has received what, and what they used it for.
Although utility providers of all types have published notices that their “grace period” was over and they would resume cutoffs of electric, water/sewer, etc. — some say they still didn’t realize things were going back to normal.
“Some of them will say ‘We didn’t know that we had to pay it,'” Shaffer said. “We still have a lot of people without power…we try to tell them that the job market is wide open.”
Page One doesn’t simply hand over funds to anyone who asks. There is an application process, and the non-profit sends payments directly to the provider (such as Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative). The applicant does not receive cash or a check, and Shaffer said the organization is also encouraging people who can, to re-enter the workforce.
“Some people are still recovering from the pandemic…and some think they will still receive additional stimulus checks,” Shaffer sighed. “It’s a whole new generation…but we are really concentrating on seniors and veterans, and focusing on family situations…we are not handing it out to just anybody because we are seeing some able-bodied people who are just not going to work. We require them to volunteer five hours and you would be surprised how many won’t even do that.”
Although Page One receives about 25 to 30 applications for help each week in Luray — and another 15 in Shenandoah — the non-profit is only able to help about 10 applicants on a weekly basis.
“We had to cut back,” Shaffer said. “We tried to do more if they also worked with other agencies.”
But recently, it’s been tough to help those in need.
“Our donations have slowed up since COVID slowed down,” Shaffer said. “Donations are down like 50 percent…I think people are scared [about the economy]…you don’t know what is going to happen.”
With the budget down 50 percent, and the anticipation of a huge demand for help with rising heating/fuel bills this winter — Page One desperately needs the community’s help.
The Page One food bank at 35 N. Bank St. in Luray serves an average of 145 people each week, including a senior outreach that takes meals to 96 homes every two weeks in Luray and another 35 in Shenandoah.
Volunteers are desperately needed. Some local industries, like Andersen, Kontoor and Masonite are offering programs in which employees can stay “on the clock” while they volunteer at Page One, or other organizations. Shaffer hopes other local businesses might do the same.
To donate to, or volunteer for, this non-profit effort to help local residents through the Page One Thrift Stores, Family Assistance or the Food Bank, checks may be dropped off at any Page One location in Luray or Shenandoah. For more information email Director Lois Shaffer at [email protected]