Warm more than hearts during this Valentine’s season season
The fifth annual Union County Walk for Warmth is taking place on Saturday, Feb. 16, at the Presbyterian Friendship Center, 1204 Spring St., in La Grande.
The funds from the Walk for Warm address a rising need in our community. With these hard economic times, many people in our community cannot cover their heating bills. According to the Oregon Center for Public Policy, the current poverty level for a family of four is $23,550 per year ($1,963 per month). When looking at the census numbers for Union County (2007 -2011), 16.6 percent of residences live at or below this poverty line.
In addition, the Energy Information Administration is predicting this year’s winter heating bills will “rise by 20 percent for heating oil customers, 15 percent for natural gas customers, 13 percent for propane customers and 5 percent for electricity customers” (The Oregonian, Oct. 10, 2012).
While there are assistance programs available to help with this situation, many programs have guidelines that disqualify individuals and families in need, based on various criteria. Or the programs have an annual cap for each household that creates a shortfall in covering emergency winter heating expenses.
Walk for Warmth funds fill the gap created when individuals and families do not qualify for government assistance.
Although this program assisted many people last year, one situation demonstrates the flexibility of this program’s guidelines. A single man who had suffered a serious health issue that required back surgery had mounting medical bills, which meant he could not meet all of his living expenses. He was faced with making choices between heating his home, buying food or paying for medical needs. Since he was receiving unemployment benefits, he did not qualify for federal assistance through Low Income Energy Assistance Program. Community Connection was able to access Walk for Warmth funds to pay his heating bill, which allowed him to cover his own food and medical expenses.
While each scenario is different, this type of situation will continue to occur in Union County. We need to generate funds to help our neighbors so that choices between other essential and heat do not have to be made. Please join us in supporting this worthy effort by participating in the Walk for Warmth by obtaining pledges and participating in the walk, by being a sponsor of someone who is walking, or by giving a direct donation to this cause.
All of the funds that are raised from this project are used for Union County residents who can apply for assistance through Community Connection of Northeast Oregon.
Organizers of this year’s Walk for Warmth are the MESA Club (Eastern Oregon University’s anthropology-sociology club), Sacred Heart Catholic Church (Union) and C.U.R.R.E.N.T.S. of Justice for Peace. Please join them in making this year’s event the most successful Walk for Warmth to date.
Jeannette Benton of La Grande is an instructor in the English Department at Eastern Oregon University.