Call now if you need help keeping the heat on this winter

SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Temperatures are dropping and as they do the United Way of St. Joseph County is starting to receive an onslaught of calls from people looking for assistance paying their heating bills.

"Each year it has gotten's gotten worse as the economy's gotten worse," explained John Sovinski who has worked at the 211 call center for eight years.

Almost 150 calls a day have come in since temperatures started dropping last week.  With the economy down and unemployment up the United Way is anticipating one of their most demanding years in recent memory.

"We're seeing some statistics that would remind us of those we saw in the great depression," described Karen Sommers, Vice President of Community Investment for the United Way.

Sommers says this would be one of the worst years for winter assistance as the economy has taken it's toll on people's ability to pay their utility bills.

"People are still unemployed, people that have gone back to work are making less money than they were and the cost of all the resources whether it be food or utilities has risen," Sommers explained.

The one good sign about the number of calls coming in now is that it means people are starting to ask for help early, which is exactly what the United Way is asking people to do.

"We can't reinforce and suggest that enough... call 2-1-1 and find out what resources are available," Sommers explained.  "The last thing we want is for people to have their utilities turned off."

Ignoring warning notices and waiting until utilites are already shut-off is the worst thing to do, according to Sommers.

"Then you're dealing with disconnect, you're dealing with deposits and those kind of resources do not exist in the community," she explained.

If you call well before you run out of time then it's easier for 211 to help find local resources and work with the utility companies.  But, that's not the only reason to call sooner rather than later.

"There's X amount of money out there so you gotta get working on it real quick," explained John Sovinski.

For more information on United Way's 211 service visit:

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