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Join Walk for Warmth
Many families in our county are hurting this winter. High unemployment from the ongoing recession has often led to heartbreaking choices between buying food and paying for home heating –-- or going without.
Union County residents can open their hearts and wallets to help our neighbors through a difficult time. Join us for the Walk for Warmth on Saturday, Feb. 18.
Exercise your compassion muscles; move your feet to provide heat; and help us beat last year’s fundraising efforts of $9,000. All donations are tax deductible with 100 percent of the funds staying in the county assisting families facing home heating emergencies ---- families who might otherwise “fall through the cracks.”
What is the need for this emergency heating fund? We have statistics and we have personal knowledge. Personal knowledge tells us that many of our friends and neighbors work two and three jobs to meet basic needs of housing, food and health care. We all know people who struggle in these areas and the recent recession just tipped them over the edge. Through the recession, job losses in construction and manufacturing were severe and have been slow to make a comeback.
The stats tell us that unemployment is at 10.9 percent in Union County and 42 percent of 6,022 children live in low-income families. The poverty rate is 16.8 percent, 49 percent of children in Union County are eligible for free/reduced lunch and 128 children in our community are homeless.
The numbers suggest that even some of those employed are still living in poverty.
Since 2003, when housing analysts developed a national model for examining energy costs, the home energy affordability gap for families in the United States has increased almost 120 percent.
What does this mean? According to these researchers, home energy affordability is estimated at about 6 percent of family income per year. Actual energy costs above 6 percent are judged to be unaffordable.
For low income families, the gap between affordable and actual energy costs has been devastating, even before the 2008 economic recession.
In some counties in Oregon, families with incomes at or below 50 percent of the federal poverty level may have a home heating burden of almost 40 percent. These families must frequently choose between heating and eating.
Community Connection administers The Walk for Warmth Fund, providing a safety net for families facing such terrible choices. Last year, they assisted one family with two children and another on the way who were desperately struggling to keep their home and support their family. They were over income for DHS services and were over income for our federal energy assistance programs. Therefore, W4W was perfect.
Another family helped by the crisis fund included grandparents who were raising their two grandkids. They both had Social Security income and a pension which put them over the income guidelines. They aren’t getting any assistance for the grandkids, which have put a burden on their household. They both take a lot of medications and have supplemental insurance, which they are paying for out of their checks. They had too much money to qualify for federal funds but were assisted with payment on their heating bill through Walk for Warmth so they could afford their medication and support their grandkids.
Yes, the winter has been milder to date. However, cold weather is cold weather and the furnace costs money at whatever setting it operates.
So here is how you can be a good neighbor to those in crisis: become a walker (individual or team) and collect pledges; support a walker(s) with pledges; or a make generous donation in any amount and mail it to Community Connection, 1504 N. Albany St., La Grande, Oregon 97850 (indicate Walk for Warmth). Businesses or organizations can also get involved through sponsorships.
The Walk for Warmth Event starts at the Maridell Center, 1124 Washington, with registration from 10 a.m. to noon. All ages are invited to this family-friendly event (even your dog is welcome to walk). A complimentary lunch will be served to all walkers at noon.
For more information and pledge forms, contact Sherry at 541-805-8823 or go to our website, www.w4wno.drupalgardens.com.
Mary Rose Nichols lives in Elgin.