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Operation Summer Salvation brings cooling to those in need

Posted: July 12, 2018 4:11 p.m.
Updated: July 13, 2018 1:00 a.m.
Martin L. Cahn/C-I

Derek Gamble (front, right) poses with members of Masons Hadoth Lodge No. 250, who sponsored the purchase of and helped install an air conditioner for a Cassatt woman Tuesday, as part of Operation Summer Salvation. Hadoth Lodge members who worked with Gamble on Tuesday are Treasurer John McCants (front, left); Warden Phillip Kelley Jr., who is also Gamble’s brother (back, left); and Worshipful Master Billy Tention (back, right). With them is United Way Mentoring Program Director Margaret Lawhorn who is also working with the group.

Growing up mostly with his grandmother and his paraplegic aunt, who lived next door, gave Derek Gamble an appreciation for what the elderly and disabled go through, especially when it comes to battling the heat in South Carolina.

To honor them, Gamble founded Operation Summer Salvation -- an effort to install 500 window air conditioning units across the state by the first day of fall in September. So far, Summer Salvation sponsors and volunteers have installed 46 with another 20 on the way, thanks to a recent $2,000 donation from Target.

However, Gamble knows there’s a long way to go.

“The heat in these homes is overwhelming,” Gamble, who is based in Sumter County, said during an interview at United Way of Kershaw County where he was looking for additional assistance for the cause. “This is a little something -- a lot more can be done -- but at least they won’t die because we have deadly heat and humidity here in South Carolina. We’re not trying to cool the whole house, but if we can get a room cooled down, then they have a place where they can sit and be comfortable.”

Gamble and members from one of his newest sponsors, Masons Hadoth Lodge No. 250 on York Street in Camden, installed air conditioner No. 46 for a woman living in Cassatt on Tuesday.

“This is our third summer and we’re trying to grow. We’re in all 46 counties; some of them are very impoverished. Five hundred is equal to only about 10 per county,” Gamble pointed out.

The need is so great in Lee County that Operation Summer Salvation can’t keep up there.

Here in Kershaw County, Gamble hopes to identify more seniors who need help keeping cool through the Kershaw County Council on Aging and the Lieutenant Governor’s Office. He said those agencies help maintain the accountability his operation needs to prove it is a legitimate program.

“The Lieutenant Governor’s Office helps us screen for eligible candidates for the program,” Gamble said.

Operation Summer Salvation is a 501(c)(3) organization, so sponsors (including individuals) can purchase an air conditioner for the program to install as a tax deductible donation. To keep costs down, Gamble said Operation Summer Salvation maintains a partnership with Simpson Hardware in Sumter. The store is selling the wall units for $98, a discount from its normal price. Businesses, churches, civic organizations, professional fraternities and sororities, and others can contact Simpson Hardware, pay for the units over the phone, let them know they are for Operation Summer Salvation and a volunteer will pick up, deliver and install the units.

Eligible persons must have a household income below 125 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, be at least 65 years old, are disabled and can provide proof that they are disabled, and do not have an air conditioning unit or their unit or HVAC system is non-functional.

Operation Summer Salvation serves another purpose thanks to another organization Gamble founded: the Clean Slate Reentry Program, which offers transitional housing for former inmates in Wedgefield with different levels of assistance to help them successfully re-enter society and become self-sufficient.

“I’m a former offender. I did time,” Gamble admitted. “I saw the disparity in prison, so who better to teach them how to be successful than someone who’s been through it?”

He launched Clean Slate in February 2016 and was so successful that, after he began receiving state funds, the S.C. Department of Corrections had to ask him not to come back into the prisons to look for potential candidates for the program. That’s changed.

“I got back with them earlier this year after the riot at Lee Correctional. They reached out to me,” Gamble said, explaining that the agency wanted his help in transitioning inmates back into society, something he calls restorative justice. “It can lead to them getting a ‘clean slate,’ even expungement.”

Gamble said, depending on individual needs, inmates can spend between four and 18 months in the program. In addition to Operational Summer Salvation, Clean Slate clients have also participated in road cleanups and other community activities.

Meanwhile, Summer Salvation still needs another 434 air conditioners. The program has been installing air conditioners around the state since Mother’s Day, although the initiative actually launched back on the first day of spring. It will officially end on the first day of fall, but Gamble said that if they still have air conditioners to give out, they’ll install them during the early fall when it’s still hot in South Carolina.

“I hope to grow the program to 1,000 units, and I would love to buy directly from manufacturers so they’ll be even cheaper and we can help more people,” he said.

For more information about the Clean Slate Reentry Program and Operation Summer Salvation, visit its Facebook page (@cleanslatereentry) or website (https://cleanslatereentry.com).

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