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Group helps with utility bills

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By Don Pace

Mayor Henry Sanchez said many groups doing good deeds aren’t looking for glory or recognition. “They do it because they love their neighbors,” he said.

About five years ago, a number of churches in the Las Vegas area got together to see what they could do to help people with bills that weren’t being covered by other entities.

St. Paul’s Church Pastor Richard Reed said people got inspired to create a service that would help those who couldn’t help themselves.

“We informally got together as ‘Love Your Neighbor’ with the enthusiasm of the mayor and a number of people coming together to see where there was the greatest need,” Reed said. “The first need we perceived was for senior citizens and their inability to pay for the increasing price of utility bills and the decreasing money for helping with utilities from PNM’s (Public Service Company of New Mexico) Good Neighbor program.”

Reed said while that program continues, there were city utilities not being covered like water, sewer and garbage disposal, so many elderly on fixed incomes were not able to keep up with their bills.

“We also noticed that people needed help with transportation, especially those on dialysis. There’s also a program to help people fix up their homes and another to supply people with firewood,” Reed said.

Mayor Sanchez said this is an organization whose only mission is to do good works for others.

“This is one of the organizations where every time I meet with them I feel good because they are people doing for others without any ulterior motives, and every penny that is raised goes to the people that need it. It gives people a good feeling, especially during this holy season,” Sanchez said.

Carmen Gress, who works with the family services arm of the Salvation Army and is on the Love Your Neighbor committee, said there’s a lot of need, especially this time of year with heating bills. She said while the primary focus is on the elderly, there are unemployed people with kids who need assistance.

“Just today, I had five people who came to us for help. There’s a lot of need here in town. So with the help of the mayor and the churches we try to help,” Gress said.

Sanchez said the state constitution’s anti-donation clause often makes it hard to help people with their utility bills because that rule bars the state from giving money for private purposes. Also, he said, the separation of church and state presents problems in religious charity efforts.

“For everything you try to do good, it seems there’s a law against it, but this is an organization of love that works for the people,” Sanchez said.

Love Your Neighbor committee member Theresa Duran disperses vouchers for gas and says there’s no shortage of those in need seeking help. She said the committee voted on a $100 payout and target mainly the elderly for assistance.

Alex Montao uses his musical talent at fundraising events and says while he’s not rich, it gives his life meaning to help others in need.

Brooke Burkey is another Las Vegan who volunteers his time and says he just does what needs to be done for people.

Burkey was a disaster response coordinator for the Lutheran Church in another area, and when he moved to Las Vegas, he continued to help the suffering. He said his work focuses on keeping people safe and dry.

“When I moved here, I began doing work for the elderly and single parents with kids. It’s an extension of what I’ve done before, working on people’s roofs in order to keep their homes dry. I have expanded the work to include sanitary issues, warmth and whatever people’s personal needs are.”

Burkey said he’s not a rich person, “But I volunteer my time and just do what needs to be done for people.”

The mayor said another program that doesn’t get too much publicity is the work Pastor Mark Saiz and Harold Esquibel do at the men’s home helping seniors clearing snow, cutting wood and other needs they might have.

“It would be nice to be able to raise a million dollars to help everyone who is having a problem,” Reed said. “We’re a poor community, and there are a lot of problems, so unfortunately we have to be very selective — those who are disabled and may be without family to help them. If someone wants to give us a million dollars, we’d surely be able to distribute it pretty quick.”