Anonymous donors give $167,000 to keep neighbors warm

File: In this photo taken Tuesday, March 10, 2015 electricity pylons cross the skyline of Johannesburg city, background. About 1,000 workers have been fired following an illegal strike that has halted construction at an already delayed but much needed power plant in South Africa, a spokesman for the state-owned power utility said on Friday. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe-File)

Metropolitan Ministries of Chattanooga (MetMin)has received $167,900 raised by a "secret Santa" and friends to help neighbors in need keep warm through the end of the year.

In a news release from EPB, Rebecca Whelchel, executive director of MetMin, said the unknown givers were concerned about people who have to make hard choices at Christmas time.

"Many people in our community can't afford their most basic living expenses," Whelchel said. "Thanks to the incredible generosity of this group of donors, thousands of people who are waiting for their power to be cut off will have a much happier holiday."

The EPB release said as many as 1,500 households and 3,675 people will benefit from the contribution. The anonymous donors asked that the fund will be prioritized to prevent disconnects for first-time nonpayment as well for as seniors and others with special needs.

But EPB officials said they hope the fund will cover the costs for everyone who can't afford to pay their bills during the holidays.

"This city has a huge heart," said Harold DePriest, president and CEO of EPB. "When they know there's a need, they always respond."

Over the past year, more than 26,500 households in the EPB service territory have had trouble paying for their electricity usage on time, according to the release. It said EPB tries to keep down the number of disconnects by setting up payment plans whenever possible.

In that spirit, Whelchel pointed out that utility assistance is a year-round need. Apart from this special holiday project, MetMin raises about $120,000 every year to pay electricity bills for people in need, she said, inviting the public to donate to the agency's "Stay Connected" fund at www.met-min.org.