WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) -- New Hanover County Commissioners want to help county residents struggling to pay their Cape Fear Public Utility Authority bills. It's a move that has some people asking why the county is getting into the charity business and wondering how the CFPUA's Neighbors Helping Neighbors program works.
"I had to lift at least five gallons (of water from the stream) just to flush my toilet," Talmadge Pearce said. "When you live alone and stuff like that, and you've been operated on, you know, that's kind of rough."
Pearce knows what it's like not to be able to pay your water bill. The vietnam war veteran would go to the local stream to get water for his everyday needs. Now he's one of many people in New Hanover County who has benefited from the CFPUA's Neighbors Helping Neighbors program.
"There's so many families out there that are strapped for everything," United Way of the Cape Fear Area President Chris Nelson said. "They're making decisions between food or utilities, so they're eating. Hence they don't have water."
That's why the CFPUA started Neighbors Helping Neighbors back in 2009. Because it is a charity program, the CFPUA cannot manage it. Instead the utility teamed up with the Salvation Army and United Way.
"The source of the funds is two different sources right now," Nelson said. "One is to pay the city for their storm water and their trash, and the second fund is the actual CFPUA to help people either turn their water on or to pay some past bills."
The United Way says donated money goes directly to the utility, and no cash is put in anyone's hands. Both the donor and the Salvation Army determine who will get the assistance by looking at applicants and their level of need.
Pearce heard about the program after we reported on a large donation last month. He says the program is a blessing for those in need
"I don't care who you are or what race you are or whatever," Pearce said. "We all are in this country together and we need to learn to live together. We need to learn to reach out to one another unselfishly."
The United Way says it expects to have the $10,000 the county collected available for the program this week.