Bishop Thomas J. Tobin began the Keep the Heat On challenge on October 31, 2005, to assist those struggling to heat their homes in the frigid New England winters as heating costs reached record highs. Since then, Keep the Heat On has been a vital program in Bishop Tobin’s outreach to the Diocese of Providence and to the state of Rhode Island, providing more than $4 million in heating assistance to 17,174 households through 2023.
Through Keep the Heat On, the diocese is able to help people who quite simply have no other place to turn. Secretary James Jahnz, of the diocesan Office of Catholic Charities and Social Ministry, shared one note from a recipient encapsulating the need for the program quite succinctly, “You’re a lifesaver.”
Even though Bishop Tobin has retired, the signature program will continue in the diocese; it’s scheduled to kick off its 19th season later this fall. And despite Rhode Island’s recent “mild winter,” the need for heating assistance remained consistent with years past. Due to rising costs in heating, the program recorded its fourth highest total — $285,839 — in assistance provided.
“This really underscores why Keep the Heat On is so important to households in need. Keep the Heat On is an important piece of the fabric of statewide heating assistance support.”
Jahnz explained Bishop Tobin’s significant role in making Keep the Heat On a successful ministry over the years.
“Bishop Tobin was so instrumental in the success of Keep the Heat On. This, of course, was one of his signature programs for helping those in need. His dedication to the success of the program remains unmatched.”
Jahnz recalled Bishop Tobin’s many personal visits to the homes of recipients, including a visit to the trailer home of a widower and how that elderly gentleman was wrapped in a blanket as the wind whipped through the home.
“Bishop Tobin’s impact on the lives of individuals and families that are in need of heat has been nothing short of lifesaving,” said Jahnz.
For families like Otoniel Andres and his wife Natalia Zapata, who live with their two young children, the program offered much-needed respite amid the financial strain of paying the bills during Rhode Island’s unpredictable winters.
“We felt grateful for having that help there. Anything that can help us, we’re grateful,” said Andres.
Erik B. Wallin, Captain USAF (Fmr.), who served as Executive Director Operation Stand Down Rhode Island, received a $5,000 donation in 2018 from the diocesan heating program to help support its efforts in keeping veterans safe and warm. He thanked Bishop Tobin and all who support his charitable work.
“Our veterans go off and fight in very difficult conditions all across the globe and when they have come home after finishing their service we at Operation Stand Down want to make sure they have a home and we want to make sure they have food, but they should certainly not be in a situation in which they are in their homes cold and freezing. And really putting some oil in a tank and getting the electricity up and going and keeping the family healthy and warm is very important to getting them back on the road to pursuing the American Dream that they fought and defended.”
Jahnz also noted that it is the generosity of the parishes and individuals that makes Keep the Heat On possible.
“It is our neighbors keeping our neighbors warm,” Jahnz said. “In addition, the generous gift from our new partners at Rhode Island Energy allowed us to impact even more households and have increased the help we were able to provide. People know that Keep the Heat On is a place that they can turn to when they truly have nowhere else to go for heating assistance.
Bishop Tobin said that he is very pleased by the success of Keep the Heat On over the years and for the difference it has made for Rhode Islanders.
“We’re so grateful for all of those who’ve supported Keep the Heat On, and we pray that they will be generous once again this year. It really does make a difference. It warms our homes with heating assistance, and it also warms our hearts knowing that so many people care for those in need.”
Rhode Islanders in need can receive assistance by visiting HeatRI.com or by calling 401-421-7833. Donations to the fund are also accepted at www.HeatRI.com.