The United Way hopes to have a sizeable emergency fund in place within the next week or two, and Ballengee hopes the agency will be able to announce that the fund is open for applications by Jan. 27.
After that, the United Way would partner with other area agencies, including Covenant House, the Salvation Army, Mountain Mission, Heart and Hand and EnAct of Putnam County, to help distribute funds to the nine counties impacted by the leak.
"The situation we find in the communities we serve is that once individuals and residents find out that there's a need, they respond," Ballengee said. "There are people here who are struggling, and if we can help them through a 30-day period, it may be insignificant to the people contributing, but it's very significant to those who are receiving the support."
People can support the West Virginia Emergency Fund by calling 304-340-3500 or visiting the United Way of Central West Virginia, One United Way Square, Charleston. Donations made online will only go to the United Way's general fund, but credit card information can be processed over the phone, Ballengee said.
The emergency fund isn't the area's only effort to help those in the service sector. Charleston City Councilman Andy Richardson, along with Delegate Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha; Delegate Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha; Sen. Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha; and Sen. Chris Walters, R-Kanawha; hope to encourage affected residents to "Turn Up the Tips" at restaurants that were closed by the chemical leak.
"We recognize that the restaurant owners, workers -- there were a lot of victims in this, but my livelihood was not affected. Their livelihood was affected," Richardson said. "We identified a way for people to support their local restaurants through this, and we consider this a nine-county initiative. Spread the word: Turn on the water and turn up the tips."
The group has developed posters for its campaign to remind restaurant patrons about "Turn Up the Tips," and the initiative is something Richardson hopes will help residents who already may be living "paycheck to paycheck."
"We have bound together as a community in an extraordinary way during this emergency, but when the water starts flowing, for some people the emergency is not over," Richardson said. "For those who have been temporarily unable to work -- primarily in the service businesses such as restaurants and hotels -- we need to help them get back to where they were."Reach Lydia Nuzum at lydia.nu...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189.