Gift of Warmth: Detroit mother receives help paying bills when she desperately needed it

Cost to stay warm can be too much for thousands of Michigan families

DETROIT – With winter approaching in Michigan, the cost to stay warm can be too much for thousands of families across the state.

But everyone can help give the Gift of Warmth to families this season.

Local 4's Hank Winchester will show you how.

Single mother's story

Life changed quickly for Carlanda Hawkins, a single mother living in Detroit, when she had her second child. She had no idea the struggles that were ahead of her, including the battle to keep her heat and lights on.

"When you're pregnant, you never say, 'You know what, this kid is going to come with complications,'" Hawkins said. "You never say, 'My life is going to change.'"

Her son Anzio was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and given just a couple of years to live.

"He had a tumor the size of a lemon behind his brain," Hawkins said. "Tumors covering his brain behind both eyes. The mass in his stomach was the size of a grapefruit. Then he had tumors in both hip bones."

She spent years in and out of the hospital with Anzio as he received treatments and underwent surgeries. He's been cancer-free for more than 20 years.

Along with her own children, Hawkins had to take care of her ailing parents.

"My dad recently passed, so I gave up everything to take care of him because I didn't know after my mom passed (if) my dad was unable to really care for himself," Hawkins said.

The bills started pilling up.

"So I was sitting there trying to figure out, 'Hey, you know, this bill is due,'" Hawkins said. "I have other things I have to do, and, you know, the income is just not coming in to meet the bills the way it should."

Anzio even took on a job to help his mother.

"I'm trying to make sure I put money in their pockets, as well as help mom with the bills here," he said. "Me being young, I was stressing more than I should. I was stressing like a 45-year-old man for a minute."

Help paying utility bills

But during a routine appointment, their doctor was about to change their lives for the better.

"She said, 'Hey, you guys need any help with your DTE bill?'" Hawkins said.

Hawkins was put in touch with a case manager from the Heat and Warmth Fund to help her pay the utility bills.

"Courtney made me feel like a person," Hawkins said. "She never made me feel like a person standing in line waiting for a handout or anything like that. That meant a lot to me because I have a lot of pride in how I take care of my family."

Hawkins said the application process was simple.

"It was very easy," she said. "They tell you right up front what you need. There was no small prints, so to speak, where you think everything is done, and then they come at you with, 'Hey, now we need this.'"

Instead of worrying about bills, Hawkins and Anzio are not looking to the future. Anzio hopes to one day give back to the program that's helping his family.

"I plan on going back to school to actually become an electrician so maybe I could help build a program like this," Anzio said. "Donate my time to help, you know. Do stuff for the community."

They hope anyone else who needs the same help will make the same call they did.

"Why not use a program that's to help you if you needed help?" Anzio asked. "Then when you're back on your feet, you're back."

About the Authors:

Hank Winchester is Local 4's Consumer Investigative Reporter and the head of WDIV's "Help Me Hank" Consumer Unit. He works to solve consumer complaints, reveal important recalls and track down thieves who have ripped off metro Detroiters.

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.