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When the bill to keep warm in winter months can’t be paid by residents in Lexington Park, they can reach out for help close to home, as a combination of public and private resources are made available on a regular basis at an office building off Great Mills Road.

“It’s important for us to be a one-stop shop,” Kerry Miciotto, a team leader with the St. Mary’s County Department of Social Services, said at the end of one of the outreach sessions held twice a month at that location to give people access to Maryland’s Office of Home Energy Program.

The program falling under the Maryland Department of Human Resources is operated in this region by the Southern Maryland Tri-County Community Action Committee, through Virginia Pilkerton.

From July through November, 1,765 people in St. Mary’s sought assistance with their energy bills.

“Lexington Park by far is our largest outreach site,” Pilkerton said. “The largest number of customers are seen here.”

The assistance potentially is available for someone who’s experiencing “ongoing poverty” or a specific crisis, such as suddenly losing a job, according to Joanne McDonald, social services’ assistant director of family investment services.

“If they have trouble meeting their bills, they can apply for this program,” McDonald said.

The different relief programs each have their own criteria, in part based on a person’s income level, and the overall response also draws on the help provided by churches and the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative.

“People come in with income, but it’s not enough to pay their electric bills,” Miciotto said.

To start, Pilkerton said, “We would like them to come to our agency.”

The tandem effort at social service’s Lexington Park office helps determine what’s available in each particular situation, as the team members know the intricacies of eligibility in cases of utility disconnects, and any underlying unpaid bill involved. Accumulated unpaid bills can be a separate problem, and the help includes trying to prevent more of them in the future.

“We have to work with the customers to make a plan,” Miciotto said. “We can’t just put a Band-Aid on families and individuals. We have to teach them how to handle their crises.”

jwharton@somdnews.com

To learn more

Upcoming Home Energy Program outreach sessions in Lexington Park will be held from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Jan. 14 and 16, Feb. 11 and 13, March 11 and 13, and April 8 and 10 at the St. Mary’s Department of Social Services office at 21775 Great Mills Road.

Outreach sessions also will take place from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Jan. 15, Feb. 12, March 12 and April 9 at social services’ Leonardtown office at 23110 Leonard Hall Drive.

For more information, call 240-895-7000 or 301-475-5574.