WILLMAR — With the health and financial uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to grow, the Assembly of God Church in Willmar reached out its hand to help keep the lights on and water running for local families in need.

"We just want to help the community," said Keith Kerstetter, head pastor at Assembly of God.

Acting in accordance with its mission and desire to pastor the entire community, Willmar Assembly of God donated $20,000 to Willmar Municipal Utilities to help cover unpaid utility bills of residents who are already considered low-income and are now suffering even more because of the pandemic.

"There are going to be some real financial impact for some families," Kerstetter said. "It is going to come due."

Assembly of God Church in Willmar donated $20,000 to Willmar Municipal Utilities to help pay overdue bills. Rev. Keith Kerstetter, pictured here at Easter, said the church wanted to make a significant impact and help the community.

Erica Dischino File photo / West Central Tribune
Assembly of God Church in Willmar donated $20,000 to Willmar Municipal Utilities to help pay overdue bills. Rev. Keith Kerstetter, pictured here at Easter, said the church wanted to make a significant impact and help the community. Erica Dischino File photo / West Central Tribune
The funds come from the church's monthly Deacons' Blessing. Each month the Board of Deacons decides on a worthy cause to donate funds toward. Over the years the donations have assisted a variety of causes. This month the substantial gift to Willmar Municipal Utilities was perhaps the largest donation approved by the board, Kerstetter said.

"We wanted to have some sort of impact," Kerstetter said. "We're blessed, we are a blessed church and we want to pass that blessing on."

Willmar Municipal Utilities used the funds to help pay the bills of customers who already receive utility assistance through United Community Action Partnership. That assistance only covers electricity, leaving water and sewer costs still unpaid and hanging over the heads of families who can least afford it.

"I think it is phenomenal that AG, and places like it, are willing to help people in need. That is fantastic," said John Harren, Willmar Municipal Utilities general manager.

The grants created by the donation helped 151 households — every United Community Action Partnership account with an overdue bill. The maximum grant was approximately $162 and on average people received $134. While the gift might not have paid off the bill in entirety, it did reduce it.

"This donation has definitely helped a lot of people," said Janell Johnson, Willmar Municipal Utilities human resources manager.

Both the church and Willmar Municipal Utilities hope the donation inspires others to assist if they can. Willmar Municipal Utilities is seeing an increase in past due accounts and not all of them are eligible for assistance programs such as that offered by United Community Action Partnership. Harren said anyone interested in donating to the utilities just needs to give them a call.

"We have a lot of customers here who are getting behind," Harren said.

Assembly of God urges others to help the community: If more people come together to help, even more will be possible.

"The virus will pass. How the church responds will be remembered," Kerstetter said. "How the community responds will be remembered."