Operation Round Up Recipients Tell How
Member Donations Make the Difference
Call him Charlie, he insists as he introduces himself.
The lunch rush hasn’t yet begun for Charlie Self or his organization, Charlie’s Angels. Volunteers busy themselves in the kitchen preparing food for the day’s guests at his Possum Kingdom Lake operation.
On this day, it’s spaghetti with pie for dessert. A table with a selection of free canned food offers itself to those who might come home to a bare cupboard. In about an hour, the dining room will ring with talking, laughter and the sound of dominoes, he said. Just like every Tuesday and Thursday, he and other volunteers work to feed those in their community who need it—even bringing it to them if necessary.
Running a self-started charity organization might make some worry on a daily basis, but Self says he doesn’t sweat it. He says he’s always thankful for help that always seems to come at the right time. He said he’s thankful for the recent grant his organization received from United Cooperative Services’ Operation Round Up program—a funding source donated by co-op members that provides
assistance to members in need, as well as grants to organizations in communities served by United.
Members who participate agree to have their energy bill rounded up to the nearest dollar amount. The change amounts to an average of only $6 a year, but provides more than $100,000 a year to those in need in United’s service territory.
Self, who recently received a grant from Operation Round Up, said he was led by God to start Charlie’s Angels in 1996 to feed elderly, disabled or other people in his community who might have trouble getting a nutritious meal.
“I was raised by my grandparents,” he said. “When they passed away, it was very sad. I just wanted to give something back to older people. I found out there were four or five people up here at the lake that were by themselves and disabled and they weren’t getting a whole lot to eat, not because they weren’t able to pay for it, but because a person who lives alone isn’t always going to make much to eat for just theirself. God put it on my heart that we should do this, and he pretty much spelled out what you see today. None of this is mine. We’ve never wanted for anything very long before what we needed has showed up.”
From the original five, the organization now feeds lunch to about 140 people either in the organization’s dining room or by taking it to those who can’t come to the dining room.
Today, about 40 volunteers take turns manning the kitchen, and 14 to 16 of those volunteers deliver to about 80 homebound participants. For many of them, the conversation and fellowship they receive at the dining hall or with the volunteer service delivery are the only interaction many have in between these visits, Self said.
“We have survived on the support of people in the community,” he said. “God told me to do this. He really did. Once I wondered when I could stop, and He told me he’d let me know when. So, I don’t even think about stopping. My name’s on it, but God started it, and I’ve got almost 40 people giving of their time. Nobody gets paid a dime. They’re really the ones who need to be blessed and recognized.”
Landy Bennett, chief administrative officer at United, said the co-op became the 100th cooperative nationally to participate in Operation Round Up, which officially was implemented in 1998 at Johnson County Electric Cooperative. Since that time, United’s program has donated more than $3.3 million to more than 7,000 families.
“Co-ops were started with members helping members, and this program is a continuance of that original idea to provide specific help for specific needs,” Bennett said. “Since United’s inception, we’ve been dedicated to improving the quality of life for our members and the people in our communities. This is accomplished through exceptional service and value, but also through our very active involvement in philanthropic efforts. The program has not only provided grants to encourage and enhance multiple non-profit and service organizations throughout the territory, but also given much needed relief for members dealing with catastrophic events.
“For example, when tornados have ravaged parts of our service territory or a house is destroyed by a fire, the member assistance program provides sustenance of life through donations. These donations are often in the form of gift cards to local retailers so that displaced members can obtain some basic life essentials.”
Last year alone, more than $108,000 was distributed to charitable organizations and 135 families, he said.
Granbury resident Bill Black was one of those families who received assistance last year. A United member since 1984 and a divorced father of twin college-aged daughters and a son in the marines, he said he never imagined he might one day be on the receiving end of Operation Round Up.
Then last September, he received a call from a neighbor that they’d seen smoke coming from the area of his home—a Texas-style, native limestone home he’d custom built for himself in 1987. As he drove up, he saw several pickups in the driveway, and smoke was pouring from the house. The person who retrieved the blind blue heeler from the front porch said he had already called 911. Another fellow who checked the doors discovered the west patio door was wide open.
Luckily, his children weren't home when the fire began. But the home was a total loss, he said.
“It was a wonderful home,” he said. “Not so much now, though. The fire department said the rock walls and metal roof contained the fire substantially. It incinerated the upstairs area where I had all my business and personal files. One of my daughters had a bedroom and bathroom up there. It was all reduced to total ash. Nine fire departments fought the devastating blaze for seven hours.”
A year later, the fire is still difficult for Black to discuss. Though he continues working through insurance woes, he said he still appreciates the Operation Round Up assistance he received that paid his final electric bill following the fire.
“It was helpful and very timely to receive the benefit at a real time of need like that,” he said. “People make assumptions that insurance is going to be there to help them out. Just because you pay for a farm and ranch policy for two decades doesn’t mean there will be reciprocation. I learned how that really works out. So, it really did help, because sometimes things don’t work out the way that you think that they should. It was certainly a relief, and I appreciate your program. It helped me out in my time of need.”
Marty Haught, assistant general manager and chief operating officer at United, said co-ops such as United adhere to seven cooperative principles, including “concern for community.”
“The Operation Round Up program is the perfect embodiment of this core principle,” he said. “The average co-op member donates $6 with a maximum possible contribution of $11.88 per year. This may not seem like a large amount, but when combined with more than 40,000 other participating members, it adds up to make a significant impact. Most of the time, it simply astounds members that their electricity provider would administer something like Operation Round Up. We’ve seen countless tears of gratitude. You have to take into account that when an Operation Round Up donation is given, it’s typically at a time when things seem hopeless in a member’s life. This program provides a sliver of positivity and lets them know their cooperative cares and looks out for its members.”
Donations also go to charitable organizations to help children in need, such as Children’s Advocacy Center, Eldercare, Meals on Wheels, Wings of Hope and Tarleton Equine Therapy, CASA programs, Children’s Christmas Charities programs and even volunteer fire departments to assist in the purchase of new equipment to help protect community members.
Matt Hutsell, chief of the Tolar Volunteer Fire Department, said his organization recently received a grant toward the purchase of a four-gas detector to aid firefighters in determining the types of dangerous gasses that may present during an active fire, as well as a two-gas detector that can assist firemen in testing whether natural gas or carbon monoxide might be present in a home or business.
The Tolar VFD comprises 27 volunteers serving a 150-mile coverage area, he said. It’s the biggest VFD covering the Southwest Corner of Hood County.
“Our four-gas detector had broken, and we’d had it for several years,” Hutsell said. “Down here, there’s a lot of natural gas, so it’s pretty important to have one because it senses carbon monoxide, oxygen levels, natural gas and hydrogen sulfide. It also detects if gasses are explosive or present an explosive mixture. We actually had an issue at a high school over the summer where we had to call in another department to use their detector because ours was broken. These are very important tools to have.”