Writing and reporting by Jake Brown
Across New England, with the temperature dropping and heaters cranking up, LIHEAP has been working overtime to help keep millions of families warm. Kicking off the year, the same sweeping spirit of giving was gearing up to pitch in, from the Northeast to the Midwest and everywhere in between. Highlights of fundraising efforts from across the country include:
WLBZ Ch 2’s on-air staff personally rolled up their sleeves in January 2017 to man the phones at this year’s PROJECT HEAT TELETHON, with call centers stretching from Portland to Bangor. Lead anchor Pat Callaghan reported that the news station was “partnering with United Way and Community Action Programs around the state to provide emergency heating assistance to Mainers who may not qualify for fuel assistance from the Government, and you can donate to the Keep Maine Warm Fund all day Thursday…Its still cold, and you’ve still got to pay for heat.”
According to Channel 2, who has sponsored yearly drives for nearly a decade, necessity has kept the fundraiser an annual affair because “in Maine, 59% of low-income households struggle to meet their basic needs, spending more than 30% of their income on housing, far more than the recommended amount to help keep a household financially stable. For the more than 172,6203 people living in poverty in Maine, winter means having to choose between heating their homes and paying for other needs like food and medical care.”
A common “impossible” choice these families are faced with each frigid winter, WLBZ pointed to the staggering statistic that last winter, 5,678 people applied for emergency heating assistance, and as thermostats shot up while temperatures fell, Maine’s LIHEAP office and community action agencies around the state witnessed an alarming rise, almost a 450% increase according to Channel 2, in calls from Mainers seeking help of this kind. Part of that increase comes with the reality that “the average federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) benefit of $637 per household is projected to cover less than one-third of the $2,000 cost of keeping a household warm over the winter.”
Down in Norwich, Vermont, King Arthur Flour announced their second annual MELT: Grilled Cheese Challenge, aiming to top the $600 they raised last year in heat funding assistance with The Dartmouth, proudly advertised as America’s oldest college news paper, covered the good will with their report that “four teams of KAF employees will serve their variation to customers on the grilled cheese sandwich, featuring local ingredients. With a five dollar donation, people can sample the four different sandwiches, along with tomato soup, then vote for their favorite variation… All proceeds benefit Warmth, a statewide emergency-based program that utilizes donations to provide home heating assistance to low-income families.” With WARMTH truly qualifying as a crisis program as applicants are required by the state to be within 5-7 days of ” running out of bulk fuel or in danger of having their utility service disconnected in order to be considered,” and already tapped their LIHEAP benefit for the season.
In Pennsylvania, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review shined the spotlight on Dollar Energy’s attempt to keep it lighthearted while still tackling a serious issue for the third year in a row in Market Square, with the 4th expected this spring, where the “Jail Challenge” gets underway and “volunteers will be in a house made of ICE, held until friends pledge to donate a certain amount of money,” the Tribune-Review reported, adding that “the region’s utilities promise to match whatever individual donors raise” with a goal of $250,000 to help the state’s largest “hardship fund” that Dollar Energy helps households in need through.
In the Midwest, CBS’s local St. Louis affiliate was covering a similar effort among the HARDEE’S-sponsored Rise N’ Shine for Heat fundraising drive where the popular news station shared the welcome news last winter that “Hardee’s will donate its Sausage and Egg biscuit products by selling them for the special price of $1.00, and 100% from the sale will benefit Heatupstlouis.org, in the bi-state area, including areas as far away as Jefferson, Lincoln, Pike, and Warren in Missouri, and Madison and St. Clair counties in Illinois and other Missouri counties, including St. Louis County and St. Charles; and the City of St. Louis. Donations will stay in the communities were collected.” St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, a strong LIHEAP advocated, sung the praises of the charitable partnership between “more than 5,550 volunteers and countless more customers have continued to help make the annual Rise ‘N Shine a major success because of their generosity. Canister collections and sales of Sausage and Egg and Egg biscuits go directly to Heat-Up St. Louis and its partners, and those funds stay in their respective local communities to help our neighbors in need.” 2017’s Rise N’ Shine for Heat is aiming to serve an even greater number of Sausage and Egg biscuits in the name of helping those in need of heat.