In dangerous heat, a Helping Hand

With temperatures topping 90, Sylvia Wiggins, executive director of the Helping Hand Mission, has an overriding goal: deliver fans of all types and sizes to as many needy families as she can.

"Things are crazy," Wiggins said. "We've gotten more calls than last year from people needing fans."

At 11:30 a.m. Friday, 14 fans were piled near Helping Hand Mission's front entrance, waiting to be delivered. Two box fans and one oscillating standing fan were quickly taken to Angel Price's four-bedroom home in the Walnut Terrace housing complex -- just in time for the first extreme heat of the season.

The National Weather Service says temperatures will approach a record high of 99 today.

"It's real hot in these apartments," Price said. "There's no central air ... , so we have to provide for ourselves."

There are more families than usual in need of help this year, said Wiggins, who has been with Helping Hand Mission on Rock Quarry Road since 1990.

"People have really been affected by the economy," she said. "I'm seeing people that normally wouldn't come and ask for help, like middle-class citizens. One woman was even too embarrassed to get out of her car."

Spirits were high when Wiggins arrived at Price's home. Volunteers Veronica Hernandez, 35, and Lawrence Harris, 19, assembled the three fans and made sure they functioned properly while Jalen Price, 6, watched with excitement.

Price shares an apartment with her six children and one old air conditioning unit that frequently breaks.

"We were all trying to sleep in one bedroom to keep cool," Price said. "But what's one A/C going to do?"

Since May, 30 air conditioners and more than 362 fans have been donated to Helping Hand Mission and passed along to suffering families.

"Our goal is to give fans to people with children, the elderly and the sick," said Wiggins, who must be selective because of the growing number of requests. After Helping Hand Mission is asked for a fan, Wiggins goes to each home for an assessment.

"We used to just give them out, but right now it's so bad that we have to make sure they're in definite need," she said.

Last year, the organization and its volunteers delivered more than 1,900 fans and 108 air conditioners to the community. Some donate their old appliances to Helping Hand Mission while others buy new ones.

"It's really great for the community," said volunteer Eugene Carter of Goldsboro, who helps deliver and install fans and air conditioners. "About 20 or 30 people came in just yesterday."

Helping Hand Mission is open 365 days a year to provide relief to needy families and victims of fires with items such as food, clothes and appliances.

Triangle J Area Agency on Aging Director Joan Pellettier says it's important to distribute fans to the needy, specifically to the elderly.

"They're so much more susceptible to the heat, and many don't do well in air conditioning," Pellettier said. "They prefer the movement of air, and in some cases they may need both."

The agency receives money from Progress Energy and Duke Energy that it sends along to organizations such as Wake Human Services to buy and distribute fans.

"People that receive the fans are so grateful," Pellettier said. "We can't document if they've saved any lives, but we definitely suspect they do when you get up to temperatures like today."

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer