Smyrna Town Council members voted at the Dec. 2 council meeting to endorse a new donation program that will help residents with their utility bills.

Warm Hearts Smyrna is a program developed by the town at the suggestion of a resident; the program will allow residents to donate to the Smyrna-Clayton Ministerium for the explicit purpose of helping residents pay utility bills.

Town Manager Dave Hugg explained to council how the idea came about.

"A couple of months ago now a gentleman came to us and asked about doing a program to assist those in need of help with utility and other services," Hugg said. "He brought to our attention a number of private utilities like Delaware Electric Cooperative who have programs customers could voluntarily contribute funds to assist folks."

Therefore, town staff looked into the programs and came up with Warm Hearts Smyrna. The difference is the town isn't acting as a middle person between the individual and the ministerium. Rather, Hugg said letters will be sent out encouraging residents to donate to Warm Hearts Smyrna; checks will be mailed directly to the Smyrna-Clayton Ministerium. Donations are tax-deductible.

The recommendation came from resident Stan Slovitsky and it was based on PECO's Matching Energy Assistance Fund, which offers customers an option to add money to their monthly bill towards the fund. Slovitsky approached the town after reading a previous Smyrna/Clayton Sun-Times story regarding a $5,000 donation Smyrna Council approved for the ministerium. Slovitsky said the town writing a check in one fell swoop could cause heartburn for some citizens.

"It's a win-win situation. It's not that big of a hardship for five [dollars] but there is someone out there not able to pay their utility bill," Slovitsky said. "You don't have to worry about explaining to the people of Smyrna how you're using the money. The customer has the option. They can choose to contribute."

Vice Mayor Regina Brown asked how the staff would be handling the donations. Hugg reminded her that's why the flyer will tell residents to mail the donations to the ministerium; it takes the town out of the processing side of things.

"I don't want to add more options on the bill right at this time but we would like to say to people that there is a program "Warm Hearts Smyrna," you can make a check out and send it to the ministerium," Hugg said. "This is the first step."

Hugg said the letters will probably go out in the January utility bills.

If you would like to donate to the ministerium, make your check payable to "The Smyrna-Clayton Ministerium" and mail it to the following address:

Warm Hearts Smyrna

C/O The Smyrna-Clayton Ministerium

1st Presbyterian Church of Smyrna

118 West Commerce Street

Smyrna, DE 19977