Fan drive to help needy Wilsonians beat the heat

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With recent heat indexes beyond 100 degrees, reliance on air conditioning and fans is a given, but for many of Wilson’s poorer residents, that isn’t an option.

Salvation Army of Wilson board member Gary Proffitt said inquiries about fans are as common as pleas for food or clothing.

“The first request I kept getting was asking if we had fans and one day, this lady came in on oxygen and said she needed a fan,” Proffitt recalled. “I said we didn’t have one available and neither did the thrift store, and she started crying.”

Proffitt called other area agencies, where staff at the United Way of Wilson, the Wilson Crisis Center, the Wesley Shelter and Opportunities Industrialization Center of Wilson reported similar conversations with clients. He decided to post on social media about the need for fans and “the public’s response has been so overwhelming.”

“People started responding on Facebook with personal friends and companies stepping up to participate,” he said. “So far I have collected $4,200 and the manager of Lowe’s is allowing me to get a pallet of 47 fans for $1,000.”
He used some of the initial donations to purchase fans for Salvation Army clients, but quickly realized the need was greater than one agency. Proffitt partnered with United Way of Wilson County Executive Director Judi Thurston to organize a summer fan drive from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday, July 12 at Lowe’s Home Improvement, 2501 Forest Hills Road.

“People can make a monetary donation, they can go into Lowe’s and purchase a fan and donate it, or if they have a fan they’ve already purchased, we’ll take those donations, too,” Proffitt said.

All of the fans will be split evenly between area United Way social service organizations.

“So many of the people I’ve talked to didn’t realize this was a need,” he said. “They haven’t hesitated to donate because they know if they were in our clients’ situation, they’d want the help. Most people can’t even imagine dealing with this heat and having no cool air circulating.”

Proffitt said he’s hoping to find some businesses willing to go one more step and buy window air-conditioners that can be loaned to chronically ill clients.

“We’ve got two more months of summer, so even if it isn’t scorching hot today, the heat is going to come back even hotter,” he said. “And soon as people realize we’ve got fans, they are going to go quickly.”

While box fans are preferable, oscillating and tower fans are accepted as well as donations made to the United Way of Wilson. Proffitt said he plans to make the fan fundraiser an annual event.

“One of our board members, Bruce Jackson, went to his mission team at First Baptist and gave $500 to purchase fans,” Proffitt recalled. “I’m hopeful other mission groups will follow suit because we go overseas to help those in need, but don’t forget we have people at home who need help, too.”