WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - The United Nations recognizes access to running water as a basic human right – yet, hundreds of people in the area still go without it.
Recently, a "secret Santa" of sorts donated $10,000 to help those without water, and the City of Wilmington did the same with taxpayer dollars. Additionally, Commissioner Rick Catlin has collected about $8,000.
While such money allotted for water is coming in, leaders say they want the money to turn the water back on, rather than cover penalty charges and late fees.
"A lot of people out there didn't really do anything wrong," said Catlin. "They're victims of the utility rates, or the early billing problems, or a victim of the loss of some of the subsidies that we used to have, and they're victims of the economy."
Nearly 500 homes in New Hanover County alone don't have water, and deciding who needs it isn't a simple solution.
"There are probably families out there that have small children, that, through no fault of their own, can't afford to have water. But there's probably other families with small children that gave up Christmas to pay their water bill. You've got to be fair about it."
The CFPUA already assists some customers with their water bills through a program with the United Way and Salvation Army, which covers late fees once a year.
However, local leaders want to cover more before someone gets hurt. They say lack of water in a home is a big sanitation issue.
"It's a serious health crisis for people not to have water. For children to be going to school without being able to take a bath, you can't flush your toilet, you can't wash your hands during flu season."
Brunswick County has roughly 100 to 200 homes without water, and Pender has only about a dozen, according to Catlin. He says this effort will bring New Hanover closer to its neighbors.
"We're never going to solve all the problems but we need to make it more manageable," he said.
Catlin says he'll approach his fellow commissioners at their January board meeting to contribute money to the cause as well. He also encourages others to help, if possible.