For tens of thousands of residents on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation on the Great Plains of South Dakota, it’s already been a brutal winter as during the holiday season a massive blizzard bringing with it below-freezing temperatures for days on end and sub-zero wind chill factors.
That’s why for more than 20 years, thanks to the supporters of Running Strong, we have been able to children, parents and elders warm on the reservation through our Heat Match program which supplements families’ meager budget for propane or the utility bills starting in early January, right after the holidays when they need help the most.
On Monday, January 9, we began accepting applications for our Heat Match program at our field office on the reservation, Tipi Waste Un Zanipi (Wellness Through a Good Home) with one BIG difference – instead of matching families’ $100 1:1, 2:1, or even 3:1, this year the we are matching 4:1 – which means for families who come in with a money order for $100, Running Strong will match it with $400, for a total of $500 to have their propane tank filled or applied to their bill to the local electric company.
That $500 goes a long way towards keeping the heat on in homes, many of them mobile homes with little, if any, insulation, and drafty windows and door frames which offer little protection from keeping frigid winds from blowing right through.
In fact, with that $500, they are able to keep their home warm on the inside no matter the temperatures outside on the coldest days of winter for an average of six weeks.
Last winter, during the coldest days of the year, we were able to assist 909 families (including 94 veterans’ households), representing 3,983 individuals including 1,811 children on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation with a total of $138,200 in Heat Match program funding.
And this winter, our goal is to nearly double that number and provide Heat Match funds to 1,750 families during the grant period.
Since Monday, Running Strong field coordinator Dave Lone Elk has been busy processing the paperwork for grateful families who had been worried about how they were going to keep themselves and their children warm throughout the cold days, weeks and months, which on the reservation can last through April.
Dave reported that on that first day a total of 127 families came in to apply for Heat Match funding, 47 applicants for Lakota Plains Propane and 80 more for the local utility company, Lacreek Electric.
The recipients coming in have been telling him how truly thankful they are for the Heat Match, with many commenting to him that since the December blizzard they have been “scared and on edge.
One female elder who had been just getting over the trauma of being housebound for a week during the blizzard, told him how fearful she had been before receiving Heat Match funding, saying, “I’m afraid to get snowed in for seven days in without propane again.”
Another head of the household of a family of four told him:
“If it wasn’t for Running Strong, we just wouldn’t know how we would be able to pay our electric bill this month.”
Dave noted that many of these experiences are a result of the historic blizzard – the worst in 10 years – which hit the reservation a few days before Christmas making travel impossible and leaving many stranded in their own homes.
“Families were snowed in for at least a week which made it impossible for propane trucks to get out and deliver,” he reported. “As you can imagine, the holidays were not very festive this year.”
Dave also commented that families in dire need may apply more than one time, and that to make the process easier for those who cannot travel long distances on the vast reservation to our field office to apply in person, they can submit their application through the mail.
“This is particularly important because after the holidays people are struggling with financial worry, and wondering if they can afford propane or pay their electric bill is not something I want our people to stress about, especially in sub-zero temperatures.”