MEC introduces 'Operation Pocket Change'

Mountain Electric Cooperative (MEC) will begin a new program in June to help raise money to benefit charities and assist those in need in the cooperative's service area.
   Operation Pocket Change (OPC) will give cooperative members the option of "rounding up" their electric bills to the next whole dollar each month, with the extra cents going to the OPC.
   For example, if your monthly bill is $53.76, your bill would be rounded up to $54 with the additional 24 cents going directly into the fund," said Mountain Electric General Manager Joe Thacker. "On the average, individual OPC contributions will amount to 50 cents per month or about $6 a year. Your 50 cents a month may seem like pocket change, but if all 30,000 cooperative members participate, we have the potential of raising $180,000 to help our communities."
   An independent eight-member board will oversee the OPC fund. The board will evaluate and award requests for assistance form the fund in accordance with the OPC's bylaws. The Mountain Electric Cooperative Board will appoint the OPC board members. "Those appointed to the OPC board have a strong concern for their community and possess a desire to see that help is provided fairly throughout the cooperative service area," Thacker said. OPC board members will volunteer their time and will receive no pay or compensation. Charities and other non-profit organizations, groups and individuals may apply for funding from the money collected by OPC. Application forms can be picked up from any of the cooperative's offices or from one of the OPC board members.
   Monies raised could be used for local projects such as equipment for volunteer fire departments, lifesaving equipment for rescue squads, youth programs, community food pantries, emergency shelters following a major storm, community projects and service organizations. Such things as food, shelter, clothing and health care to needy families would also be considered. A portion of the funds will go toward scholarships in the area.
   "However, you can be sure that 100 percent of these funds will go directly back into our communities to make life better for all citizens," Thacker said. "None of the money will be used to pay electric bills owed to Mountain Electric, to finance the operations of the cooperative, or to pay for the administrative costs of the program."
   Annual donation amounts to organizations and individuals will be limited. Political campaigns and similar issues will not be considered for OPC funding.
   "Such programs are not new," Thacker said. "Palmetto Electric Cooperative in South Carolina began a similar program in 1989. In a 10-year period, the cooperative returned nearly $2 million to worthwhile charities, needy individuals and community organizations. These programs have been very successful and very well received by the cooperative membership in those areas. One of the cooperative principles is concern for the communities they serve, and we believe this program is just one way we can help make a difference."
   The program was approved by Mountain Electric's board last spring and unanimously approved by the membership at the cooperative's annual meeting in September 2001. In addition to several articles about the program in the cooperative monthly magazine, every member is also getting a notice with their May invoice explaining the OPC program.
   All contributions to OPC will be tax deductible. Members will be notified on their December or January bill of their total contributions for the preceding year.
   Members will be automatically included in Operation Pocket Change. Those who do not wish to participate may call any office and be taken off the program. Every member has the option to start or stop participation in the program at any time by notifying any MEC office.
   MEC is the local member-owned non-profit cooperative that distributes electricity to the 30,000 consumers within its service area, which includes Avery County and parts of Watauga, Burke and McDowell counties in North Carolina, and Johnson County and parts of Carter and Unicoi counties in Tennessee.