RS -- Heat Match Cover

Warming Hearts and Homes: Running Strong’s Heat Match Program on Pine Ridge Reservation

Updated January 4, 2024:

Update: January The first week of 2024 has gotten off to a frigid start with a low temperature of 11 degrees on January 2 and a low temperature of 7 degrees and a high of just 25 degrees forecast for January 8 with winds up to 11 mph which calculates to a wind chill factor to -6.7, what the temperature feels like to your body exposed to the elements.

Such weather is not uncommon for the residents of Pine Ridge including December 2022 when the Argus Leader reported that “Thousands trapped on Pine Ridge burn clothes for warmth in wake of storm.”

Through the Heat Match program, families no longer have to fear the brutal cold and fierce winds or face making choices between putting food on the table or keeping warm in their homes.

For some families, it even makes a joyous and warm Christmas possible, with one family sharing “The Running Strong Heat Match has saved my little family’s Christmas. Wopila to you all who work hard to help us stay warm in such a cold time.”

We started our Heat Match program early this year – just before the holidays. For some families, it even helped to make Christmas a joyous and warm one!

Over 1,200 families have already applied for heat match funding. Our field office has been hectic fielding calls and visits from families each day this week, and we will soon have heard from nearly 2,000 families, all needing just one thing – heat.

Dave Lone Elk, our Field Office coordinator, says, “January is our coldest month, and the people look to Running Strong for warmth. The need is still here, and our Heat Match is more needed than ever.”

For tens of thousands of residents on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation on the Great Plains of South Dakota, the winter is always brutal, with below-freezing temperatures for days on end and sub-zero wind chill factors.

For some families on Pine Ridge, a strict budget grows even tighter in winter, balancing food, medicine, and other utility bills as fuel and seasonal expenses skyrocket.

That’s why, for more than 20 years, thanks to Running Strong’s supporters, we have kept children, parents, and elders warm on the reservation through our Heat Match program which supplements families’ meager budget for propane or utility bills. 

Our Heat Match program typically begins in early January, right after the holidays when they need help the most.  But this year, following an early season ice storm in October, we are starting our Heat Match program during the week of Thanksgiving.  This might even make it easier for families and the family budget, ensuring Santa can visit! 

On Monday, November 20, we will begin accepting applications for our Heat Match program at our field office on the reservation, Tipi Waste Un Zanipi (Wellness Through a Good Home) with a 4:1 match – 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 can 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 1,905 families, which kept 8,049 individuals, including 4,112 children, warm all winter long.  

This year, we are not only starting the program earlier but also expanding our reach on the vast reservation. We have included Nebraska Public Power on our list of vendors participating in the Heat Match for the first time.   This expands the program’s reach to areas served by the utility so that we can cover the entire reservation.

Running Strong field coordinator Dave Lone Elk, who each year processes the paperwork for grateful families, shared last year:

  • One female elder who had been just getting over the trauma of being housebound for a week during the blizzard of ‘22 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 weren’t for Running Strong, we just wouldn’t know how we would be able to pay our electric bill this month.”

The Running Strong Heat Match Program. Warms homes and hearts.

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