CENTRAL FALLS — The Diocese of Providence kicked off the 13th annual “Keep the Heat On” campaign on Tuesday, beginning another winter of providing emergency heating assistance to families in need. Bishop Thomas J. Tobin announced the opening of the new season at the home of Otoniel Andres and his wife Natalia Zapata, recent beneficiaries of the diocesan program.
“We’re very happy to be here today and thanks to Otoniel and his family for welcoming us to his home with his beautiful family,” said Bishop Tobin. “It is an opportunity for us to launch the newest edition of our ‘Keep the Heat On’ campaign, the 13th annual campaign that we’ve conducted to provide heating assistance for people throughout our region who have nowhere else to turn.”
Bishop Tobin launched “Keep the Heat On” in 2005 as a way of providing heating and utility assistance to Rhode Island families who have exhausted all other forms of public and private aid. Since its beginning, the program has contributed more than $2.65 million in heating assistance to approximately 12,000 households throughout the state.
For families like Andres and Zapata who live with their two young children, the program offers much-needed respite amid the financial strain of paying the bills during New England’s unpredictable winters. Andres and Zapata, who are both recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), learned about “Keep the Heat On” from staff at the diocesan Office of Immigration and Refugee Services.
“We felt grateful for having that help there. Anything that can help us, we’re grateful,” said Andres. “With Thanksgiving and Christmas, usually things get tight.”
The program operates out of the diocesan Catholic Social Services office, where James Jahnz, coordinator of the emergency assistance network for the diocese, said he has already received several calls requesting heating assistance this year.
“While we kick off the program, it never really ends,” he explained. “Certainly as the cold weather’s kicked in, we started getting calls last week.”
According to Jahnz, last year’s program provided $189,690 in assistance to 1,208 families in need. While these figures represent a slight decline compared with the amount contributed in recent years, including during the notoriously snowy winter of 2014-2015, Jahnz emphasized the numbers have more to do with a drop in oil prices due to warm weather over the past two winters than declining need.
“Proportionally, we have a much higher rate of homes that heat with oil than across the country,” he said. “So the region is affected by the price of oil.”
This winter, as meteorologists have begun offering long-term forecasts for the season, Jahnz said he anticipates higher precipitation levels will lead to an increase in calls for assistance.
“It’s predicted that we’re going to have a stormy winter, so I suspect that the need is going to be high.”
Because “Keep the Heat On” is offered as an emergency heating assistance program for those with no other place to turn, calls tend to spike early and late in the season when other aid programs are unavailable or have run out. According to Jahnz, the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) that many families rely on through the winter does not begin dispersing funds until early December, long after New England’s first cold spells. And while a state moratorium on utility shutoffs protects vulnerable residents like the elderly and young children through April and sometimes May, Jahnz said that last year, extended cold weather continued to drive requests for heating assistance after this time.
“‘Keep the Heat On’ fills a real gap when some of those funds aren’t available,” he said. “That was an unexpected need that we found over the years.”
Following the ceremony, Bishop Tobin told Rhode Island Catholic that when he first launched “Keep the Heat On” in 2005, he had no way of predicting how large the program would become.
“People have been very generous because I think they know that their contributions to ‘Keep the Heat On’ are very specific and very tangible and make a real difference for people,” he said. “It doesn’t get lost in some big bureaucracy somewhere. It’s a very direct assistance program and that makes a difference.”
Like Jahnz, Bishop Tobin anticipated a long winter season with many calls for heating assistance. He acknowledged the support of the many individuals, parishes, schools and organizations who have supported the program over the years and offered a prayer for the success of this year’s campaign.
“It’s going to be a long, cold winter,” he said. “We know that’s always true in New England, and there will be many individuals and many families depending on our help. So we’re proud to announce the resumption of the ‘Keep the Heat On’ campaign and we pray it will be very successful.”
Learn how you can help families ‘Keep the Heat on’ this winter
If you would like to help local families this winter, please send tax-deductible donations to: “Keep the Heat On,” One Cathedral Square, Providence, RI 02903. A text donation of $10 can also be made by texting the word HEAT to 27722 or a $25 donation by texting the word HEATRI to 27722.
If you or someone you know is in need of assistance, please visit the website at www.heatri.com or call
401-421-7833 for more information.