Christmas is over, and New Year’s Day is just a few days away, but residents of Pine Ridge are looking forward to another important day on the reservation – Monday, January 7 – the first day of this year’s Running Strong for American Indian Youth® Heat Match program.
Winter has arrived on Pine Ridge with blizzard conditions prompting the Oglala Sioux Tribe Department of Public Safety to issue a warning on December 26th alerting residents that they are under a winter storm advisory for the next two days and that no travel is advised.
Running Strong field coordinator Dave Lone Elk is already fielding dozens of calls at his office, Tipi Waste Un Zanipi (Wellness Through a Good Home) in Porcupine, explaining to callers that the Heat Match Program will begin soon.
Through the program, families who set aside $100 and purchase a money order and deliver it to the field office will have their contribution matched $100 by Running Strong for American Indian Youth® in order to reach the $200 minimum required to have a propane truck come to their house and fill their tank.
According to a report in U.S. News & World Report, less than half of Pine Ridge residents rely on electricity for home heating in recent years, with more than half using propane.
“That means on the roughly 2 million acre reservation – where census estimates show the median household income is approximately $31,000 and more than half of people live below the poverty line – it can be more feasible for residents to buy propane and wood to burn for heat, often consuming a significant portion of a household’s income and leaving less for other needs,” states the September, 2018 article.
The cost of propane, and having it delivered to homes on the rural reservation, is expensive – even more expensive than electricity.
Households using propane to heat their homes during the winter would spend $1,661 on average, compared with those predicted to spend $980 on electricity during the same period, according to the article.
“When fuel runs out, people on Pine Ridge may have to choose between food and paying to heat their homes, which in winter can become a life-or-death decision,” states U.S. News & World Report.
Each year for 20 years Running Strong has been working – thanks to our supporters -- to raise the heat on Pine Ridge through the Heat Match program.
The number of families assisted and elderly kept warm through the program over the course of two decades numbers in the tens of thousands: In the winter of 2018 alone, between early January and mid-March a total of 1,034 families participated in the program.
The dollar amount is not insignificant either as during the several weeks the program was in operation, Running Strong – thanks to hundreds of our generous supporters – expended a total of $108,400.
This year we are already on track to provide even more Heat Match grants– thanks in large part to long-time Running Strong supporter Steve Lauri who has generously agreed to match dollar-for-dollar gifts designated to the Heat Match program so that a gift of $100 is doubled and ensures that two households will stay warm this winter.
In addition to the winter storms impacting the reservation, the low temperatures for Dec. 28 are 7 degrees, and 1 below for New Year’s Eve – not including the wind chill factor.
After assisting 902 families during the particularly cold winter of 2017 on Pine Ridge, Dave reported that:
“We had another successful Heat Match this year. Temperatures dropped to -20 below and I really feel that we came through in a big way for a lot of families on the reservation.”
“During these harsh winter months we have provided heating assistance to over 900 families on the Pine Ridge reservation,” Dave continued. “That means a lot of children stayed warm when the temperatures dropped drastically in January coupled with a few random winter storms that pummeled the area with freezing rain and snow.
“We still maintain our position of being the only program that will help the people when all other resources are tapped,” he noted. “This is something I’m very proud of because for some we are that flicker of light in the darkness of people’s everyday struggles to provide basic necessities such as clothing, food, water – and heat.”