Pennies add up for emergency responders, others

The 4-County Electric Power Association presents a $5,000 check to West Clay Elementary as part of the organizations three-year anniversary.
Staff Writer

From a sheriff's department and volunteer fire unit to a food pantry and schools, an electric cooperative handed out big checks totaling more than $60,000 to make life a little better across nine area counties.

Celebrating its three-year anniversary, the 4-County Electric Power Association distributed checks to 15 groups during ceremonies Monday.The money comes from 4-County customers voluntarily rounding up their monthly bills. Since the program's inception in February 2015, it has generated more than $569,000 for charities, emergency responders, schools and community groups in Chickasaw, Choctaw, Clay, Lowndes, Monroe, Noxubee, Oktibbeha and Webster counties, the nine counties in which 4-County provides service.

Noting it shows how a small contribution -- an average of 48 cents per customer per month -- can add up, utility leaders said even small donations make a big difference.

"This is another monumental achievement for the 4-County Foundation. It really is making a difference in the communities, all because of the generosity of the cooperative's members," said Jon Turner, 4-County marketing and public relations manager.

The diverse nature of the groups illustrates how widespread the donations reach.

"When you operate on a tight budget like we do as a volunteer fire department, every dollar is important. I can't tell you how much this will mean," stated Greg Wall, chief of the Sturgis Volunteer Fire Department in Oktibbeha County which also includes the Craig Springs Station.

The $5,740.40 the unit is getting will cover part of the cost for a 3,000-gallon above-ground water tank at Craig Springs that will allow firefighters to pull a truck under it and fill it with water in a matter of minutes.

In another time saver, the money also will pay for a compressor that will keep air brakes on the department's trucks charged at all times.

If the brakes aren't charged, firefighters have to wait until they are before responding to a call.

The department covers 92 square miles and 1,632 residents, according to Wall.

The equipment is part of efforts to lower insurance fire ratings in areas around Sturgis from the current 9 or 10 levels to 7 or 8.

The town of Sturgis already is a 7.

Lower ratings translate into lower insurance premiums for property owners.

"Saving money will benefit everyone we serve," Wall stated.

The 4-County donations also will help prepare the next generation.

West Clay Elementary received $5,000 to pay for 20 Chromebooks. Central, East Side and Southside schools in West Point also received $5,000 each for additional iPads and the related interactive panels which will replace outdated equipment.

"Technology is the way the world is now, the more we can expose our children to it at an earlier age, the better off they will be. This is a big help," said Brad Cox, the principal at West Clay which is located in a rural area in western Clay County.

"The only time some of our students get access to the Internet is at school because it is so hard to get service to some of the rural areas where they live. This provides more opportunities for hands-on learning so they aren't just watching their teacher at the Smart Board, they can be involved, too," said Cox, who oversees 140 students in grades pre-K through 6.

Jacqueline Gray, the principal at East Side, agreed, noting many children today are as tech-savvy as their teachers, if not more so.

"I see them all the time when they pull up to the school with their parents. You are talking 4- and 5-year-olds playing on an iPhone or iPad. There will be a 2- or 3-year-old in the back working on one, too," said Gray, whose school has five iPads per classroom. In addition to bringing in modern equipment, she'll be able to put more of the devices in classrooms.

Other groups getting donations include:

-- Starkville Corps of Salvation Army, $5,100 for Christmas turkeys and food for the needy;
-- Starkville High Robojackets robotics team, $7,000 for competition travel expenses;
-- Starkville High Jobs for Mississippi Graduates, $1,500 for computer tablets;
-- Chickasaw County 4-H, $4,275 for travel expenses to national competition;
-- Girls Scouts Hearts of the South, $770 for supplies and transportation costs;
-- French Camp Elementary Gifted Program, $2,489.94 for laptop computers;
-- Camp Macon/Lake Forrest Ranch, $5,000 for transportation and camp expenses;
-- Columbus Christian Academy, $4,200.34 for Chromebooks, a camera and a locker box for a student journalism program;
-- Weir Elementary School, $4,296.70, for Apple televisions and equipment, and;
-- Noxubee County Sheriff's Department, $5,061.86, for bulletproof vests and gear.

The utility also got a bit of a pat on the back.
The Tennessee Valley Authority recognized it for signing up its first Energy-Smart Opportunities participant. The electric cooperative gave Unruh Farms in Noxubee County a $1,289 check for converting from a diesel to electric pump irrigation system. The electric pumps helped increase crop yields 250 percent last year, according to Unruh Farms.