PROVIDENCE — With a month still to go in the current heating season, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin’s “Keep the Heat On” program has already surpassed all previous years in its 17-year history of providing fuel assistance to Rhode Islanders in need.
The program has already provided more than $330,000 to those who cannot afford to pay their oil, gas and electric heating bills.
“We’ve really smashed the record of the amount of assistance provided in a heating season,” said diocesan Office of Catholic Charities and Social Ministry Director James Jahnz.
“We’re doing approximately $25,000-30,000 a week in assistance provided, which is an incredible pace and really speaks to the need that exists in the community.”
Jahnz, who has overseen the program since its second year, said that people are really feeling the pinch as the economy adjusts after the first two years of the pandemic. They are facing rising costs in heating their homes, as well as for basic needs.
“People are really being forced to make decisions on what they can afford, and unfortunately, heating is one of those things that they can’t afford right now,” he said.
Suzanne, a West Greenwich resident, said the assistance she has received from “Keep the Heat On” has been a lifesaver for her family.
“It’s a blessing, I thank Bishop Tobin,” Suzanne said of the assistance she has received from the program this year. “I keep my house on the cool side. I have no choice; I have to sit at home because I’m on liquid oxygen 24/7 due to chronic beryllium disease, which doesn’t allow oxygen to leave my lungs for the rest of my body. Eventually, your organs are starved of oxygen and the lungs become hard.”
She described the past two years as having been especially difficult for her and her family. She said that in 2020, her two adult daughters, who also live at the home, were involved in a very serious car accident when their vehicle was hit by a delivery van. Her daughter who was the passenger suffered a brainstem injury which still requires additional treatment.
“You thank God for the fact that you are still here. I’m on this earth for the children I bore. I want to help them as much as I can for as long as I can while I still can,” Suzanne said.
In addition to that, her husband seriously injured the muscles and tendons in his arm at work, but due to the pandemic, the therapy he needed was delayed, prolonging his healing, she said.
In 2021, he was diagnosed with cancer, which he is still being treated for.
When she first applied for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), she was turned down, she said.
She then applied to the diocesan “Keep the Heat On” program, an initiative of last resort for those who’ve exhausted all other options, and received a delivery of fuel right away.
“I just feel that having an opportunity to have been helped by “Keep the Heat On” has really made such a big difference and has enabled us to keep warm,” she said.
Jahnz said that “Keep the Heat On” would not be able to offer as much assistance it has if not for the many donors who continue to give generously to the program, the annual Catholic Charity Appeal, which provides some support, and most of all, the National Grid Foundation, which gave Bishop Tobin a $250,000 grant this season to help keep Rhode Island families warm.
“The National Grid Foundation is our largest supporter. The donations that they’ve been able to provide over the past nine years that we’ve worked with them have had a tremendous impact on the community,” Jahnz said.
He said the significant need that exists this year for heating assistance compares most closely with that of the 2007-2008 season, during the time of the Great Recession. That year, “Keep the Heat On” provided more than $288,000 in assistance.
This year, as prices have risen across the board, especially for home heating oil, people have been calling Jahnz’s office constantly for help.
“The people are truly grateful to Bishop Tobin for establishing this program,” he said. “They are very aware of the program’s existence and the true effect it’s having on keeping homes warm through this season.”
To make a secure donation online, or to learn about how to pay by check, please visit www.heatri.com/donate. For those seeking heating assistance, please visit www.heatri.com/apply-for-help.