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'Fan Care' Helps Low-Income Elderly

Program keeps seniors cool in summer.

Virginia Dominion Power and the state Department for the Aging began their 14th year of helping low-income elderly stay cool during the hot summer months.

The program, Fan Care, provides free fans to Virginia's elderly who live within the Dominion service area and who are 60 years or older, have a need for cooling assistance and who meet income guidelines defined by the area agencies on aging.

Janet Honeycutt, director of programs for the Department of Aging, said that because of the extreme heat and humidity the state experiences during the summer months, many seniors who cannot afford air-conditioning, or who do not like it, will be poorly affected by the weather.

"A lot of older people don't like [air-conditioning] because it's too cold," said Honeycutt. She said many of the seniors they help aren't set up for air-conditioner units.

"Although [a fan] doesn't cool the air like an air-conditioner," said Honeycutt, "it moves the air around."

Daisy Pridgen of Virginia Dominion Power said the company tries to offer fans that meet the needs of the seniors' living conditions.

"The fans are not the lowest end of fans," said Pridgen, "sometimes they're a box fan, sometimes a stand-up fan. We try to meet the best that we can, the needs of our seniors."

Honeycutt said they work with Virginia Dominion Power to distribute the fans, which seniors have signed up to receive, although she says there is a waiting list, and not all seniors can be addressed because they run out of funds to buy more fans.

"ANYONE WHO WISHES to contribute," she said of the need for new fans, "we're always happy to take them, because we do have a waiting list."

Pridgen added that they have partnered with Wal-Mart to distribute the fans, saying they usually give them a discount.

In 2003 the program had distributed 20,000 fans since the program's start 14 years before.

Dominion is the primary sponsor of the event, donating $27,500 to the program each year to purchase the fans, with limited funds going toward air-conditioners.

Honeycutt said that each division of the department of aging is able to use up to 30 percent of their funds for air-conditioning units to provide to those seniors with more serious health issues.

BECAUSE DOMINION Power doesn't provide service to every senior in the state, Honeycutt said the program is not quite statewide. But, she said that they have been able to write to the electrical companies that service other parts of the state, asking for their help to donate funds for eligible seniors to keep them cool.

She added that seniors, who meet the eligibility requirements and need a fan, can contact their local department of aging office and sign up.

Eligible seniors receive one fan per cooling season, which then become their property. The program runs until Sept. 30, or until funds run out.