The 2023 Heat the Streets Run & Walk for Warmth was one for the record books, raising its second-highest total of $138,000 to help customers who are struggling to pay their utility bills.
Omaha Public Power District and Metropolitan Utilities District host this event annually during the winter to bring added attention to the challenge a number of utility customers face to keep their homes warm and safe.
“Many are living paycheck to paycheck, and if they’re hit with an unexpected expense like a hospital stay or a car repair, they fall behind on their bills,” said Sara Howard, who serves on the OPPD Board of Directors. “Sometimes just a little financial boost can make a world of difference.”
She co-chaired the March 4 event along with her mother, Gwen Howard, chair of M.U.D.’s Board of Directors. A record 911 runners and walkers participated in the event, held at Aksarben Village.
“We’re really pleased with the turnout, especially in this economy,” said Megan Walter, M.U.D.’s manager of Customer Engagement. “We will be able to help a lot of customers with the funds raised.”
Last year’s Heat the Streets raised more than $150,000, with the donations from that event alone providing much-needed assistance for 460 households served by M.U.D. and OPPD.
The economy has continued to present challenges. And the rising cost for everything from groceries to gasoline is taking its toll, said Major Adam Moore, general secretary and area commander for the Salvation Army. His agency has seen a 33% increase in the number of people seeking help with their utility bills.
“There are so many in our community who wonder where their next meal is coming from,” he said. “Funds raised through Heat the Streets give us an opportunity to help make that choice a little easier. The event makes a huge difference in people’s lives.”
Marni Halford, an OPPD accounting clerk, was among the many utility employees who participated.
“I love to support our customers,” she said. “I see a lot of people in need in my position and I love the idea that I can help raise some money for them.”
That passion was evident among the many volunteers, as well, including Garry Floyd, supervisor of Support Services for OPPD. He guided and cheered on those crossing the finish line with shout-outs like, “You did that!” and “Personal best!”
Funds raised through Heat the Streets are administered by Dollar Energy Fund, a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit that serves low-income utility customers. Funds are equally distributed between M.U.D.’s Home Fund and OPPD’s Energy Assistance Program.
Dollar Energy Fund works with 35 local entities throughout the utilities’ service territories to provide this financial assistance for utility bills for those in need.
In total, M.U.D.’s Home Fund dispersed $186,260 in assistance to 544 households and OPPD’s Energy Assistance Fund dispersed a total of $303,360 to 929 households in 2022.
“Since much of the pandemic relief is ending, our funding resources for utility assistance are decreasing. So, the money we raise through Heat the Streets is more important than ever to help us meet our customers’ critical needs,” said Britton Gabel, manager of Advocacy Solutions for OPPD.
It’s not too late to support the cause. Visit Dollar Energy’s Heat the Streets donation page to contribute. Customers may also donate to utility assistance programs through an option on their monthly utility bills.
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 or toll-free at 800-732-5864.
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