Miami Co. United Way battles Peru’s bedbug invasion

Agency working to secure grant funding to pay for pest control

By: Carson Gerber

PERU – City and county officials are teaming up to combat what has become one of the largest public-health concerns in Peru – bedbugs.

Debi Wallick, executive director of United Way of Miami County, said bedbug infestations were deemed the number one health issue last year based on the amount of phone calls received by United Way’s 211 service.

Miami County Environmental Health Specialist Kayla Madden confirmed bedbugs are a major concern in the city and county. She said the health department on average gets 10 calls a month from residents trying to find out how they can fight off the pests.

“There’s definitely a need out there,” she said. “We get calls on it constantly.”

Cheryl Graham, director of Howard County’s 211 agency, which contracts with Miami County to provide the service, said fighting bedbug infestations is the largest need that has gone unmet by nonprofit groups in the county.

But United Way of Miami County hopes to change that.

Wallick said her agency is launching a full-on campaign to rid the city of the vermin, which spread easily and are difficult to exterminate.

United Way currently offers a program in which residents can apply to receive bed and pillow covers that prevent the spread of the bugs, but the grant money which funds the initiative is running low.

“This is a live, active initiative right now, but it’s got to the point where we are running out of money to meet the need,” she said.

Wallick is now seeking to gain the support of city and county officials, which will allow the agency to go after more grant money that could help fund the cost of pest control, which can run over $1,000 for some homes.

She is also working with city officials to beef up sanitation efforts in alleys and streets, where some residents pick up discarded items like mattresses and furniture infested with the bugs and take them into their homes.

The most immediate plan of attack, though, is to launch an educational blitz to inform residents how to prevent the spread of bedbugs and fight them off if their homes do become infested.

Wallick said United Way of Miami County plans to saturate the city next month with informational pamphlets, placing them inside food pantries, hotels, laundry mats, nursing homes, clothing stores, medical facilities and government buildings.

She said in the end, she hopes United Way and public officials can combine efforts to help curb the spread of bedbugs in Peru.

“That’s our mission,” Wallick said “The people that are partnering with us will all fight to make people aware. If we all work together for a common goal, I think we’ll see a benefit.”

Carson Gerber can be reached at 765-854-6739, carson.gerber@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @carsongerber1.

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