Omaha Public Power District and Metropolitan Utilities District teaming up again this year for the 17th annual Heat the Stres Run & Walk for Warmth.
The event, schedule for March 2, raises funds to provide utility bill assistance for customers going through hard financial times.
Registration is open at HeatTheStreetsOmaha.com. The event will take place at Zone 6 in Aksarben Village, 1911 S. 67th St., with sign-up options for everyone from competitive runners to couch potatoes.
The utilities host the run and walk during the winter to bring added attention to the struggle that so many face to keep their homes warm and their lights on.
“Fundraising is important because as the economy changes, so does household economics,” said Fratina McCraney, Training and Quality manager for United Way 211, one of the agencies that partners with the utilities to connect customers with assistance. “Families that may not have needed help before need it now,” she said.
McCraney said her agency is receiving an increasing number of requests for utility assistance. While the requests are not specially related to either M.U.D. or OPPD, they provide good insight into the kind of need that exists in our communities.
In 2022, United Way 211 received 16,106 requests for help with utility bills. In 2023, the number of requests had climbed to 18,987.
“We hear stories daily, specifically from older consumers who are feeling the pinch of the high cost of living,” said Mary Ann Eusebio, division director of Information and Assistance for the Eastern Nebraska Office on Aging, another agency that works with the utilities. “The struggle on an extremely fixed income is real.”
Eusebio said utility assistance funds have been an incredible help for a number of their clients, so they don’t have to choose between keeping the lights and heat on or “purchasing other much-needed items like groceries, medications and other basic needs.”
Jill Lynch-Sosa, executive director of another partner agency, St. Vincent de Paul Omaha, said local utility assistance programs are “absolutely critical to our community.”
She said 100% of the families and individuals served by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SSVP) are facing a financial crisis and invariably get behind on paying their utility bills.
“OPPD’s and M.U.D.’s energy assistance fundraising efforts are so important to SSVP Omaha, and especially to these neighbors in need who benefit from them.”
Funds raised are administered by Dollar Energy Fund Inc., a registered 501(c)(3), and then split between M.U.D.’s Home Fund and OPPD’s Energy Assistance Program to provide assistance to our customers living in Burt, Cass, Colfax, Dodge, Douglas, Johnson, Nemaha, Otoe, Pawnee, Richardson, Sarpy, Saunders and Washington counties.
Last year’s event raised $138,081. These funds helped M.U.D.’s Home Fund distribute $280,389 in billing assistance to 790 households in need this past year. OPPD’s Energy Assistance Program was able to distribute $319,987 in funding to 937 households in need.
This year’s co-chairs are Jim Begley, vice chair of the M.U.D. Board of Directors, and his wife, Rebecca, and Matt Core, a member of the OPPD Board of Directors, and his wife, Katy.
“I’m very grateful to be part of supporting this event. Utility assistance is critical, especially this time of year,” said Core. “We want to help ensure our most vulnerable community members have a warm and healthy home. It’s important to raise awareness around this issue and to take care of one another.”
Begley said he’s honored to serve as co-chair for this event, the largest single fundraiser for local utility assistance programs.”
“Every year, Heat the Streets brings out the best in our generous community as we come together for our less fortunate customers,” Begley said. “I am hopeful that this year will be no exception.”
The utilities hope to register 1,000 participants and raise at least $300,000 this year. Donations are especially critical right now due to a decrease in federal funding allotted to programs that help with utility bill assistance.
Participation options, including a new 10K distance, and prices follow. Those who register early will receive a beanie/stocking hat.
Untimed one-mile walk
Children 12 and under may register for free with a registered adult.
Virtual run/walk (No swag/giveaways will be given to virtual registrants.)
Participants may complete a distance of their choice on the path of their choice, such as a treadmill, in their neighborhoods or a local trail.
Awards will be given to the 1st, 2nd and 3rd place male and female runners in each of the following age divisions for the timed 5K and 10K events: 12 and under, 13-19, 20-29, 30-39, 40-49, 50-59, 60-69, 70+. (No awards for virtual participants.)
You don’t have to participate to support the cause. Visit HeatTheStreetsOmaha.com to learn more.
Both utilities urge any customers who are struggling with their bills to call their customer service representatives and talk through their options. For OPPD, that number is 402-536-4131 in the Omaha area. Outside of the metro, customers may call toll-free at 877-536-4131. M.U.D. customers should call 402-554-6666.
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