Heat-Up St. Louis gives gift of warmth

BY KEREN DOUEK, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

For most of us, the cold winter months mean time spent inside by the fireplace, and the clinking of radiators coming to life. For some, however, the winter months mean difficult decisions.

“Winter time is worse than any other time of the year in terms of house and apartment fires because people use unsafe methods of heating their homes,” said Gentry Trotter of Heat-Up St. Louis Trotter said it is not uncommon to see people overusing electric heaters or even using barbecue pits to heat their homes.

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In June 2000 Trotter founded Heat-Up St. Louis, a not-for-profit organization, to help the elderly, disabled and low-income families with small children in Missouri and Illinois with their energy bills throughout the year through contributions from the public, private and governmental sectors.

St. Louis attorney Norman Newmark, secretary and corporate counsel for Heat-Up St. Louis, said the board represents a diverse group, “from all different walks of life, which I love.”

“It’s black and white, Democrats and Republicans, and everything in between,” Newmark said.

Trotter said it is “great to read the Bible, it’s great to go to temple and to the synagogue and to congregation and to church, but there is more of a blessing in actually doing what you read about, and that’s how we started this program five years ago. We felt it was important to give back and to help less-fortunate people in the 17 counties in Missouri and Illinois.”

According to Trotter, the organization has raised more than $2 million and aided more than 75,000 people in those five years.

Melanie DiLeo, vice president of community affairs for Citigroup and chair of the Heat-Up St. Louis board, said the organization is an unusual one “because it is so very rare that a non-profit puts back 100 percent of what they raise … Literally every single penny that we raise goes directly into helping people.”

DiLeo said the organization was founded “because of the fact that there were so many low-income elderly and children that were just falling through the cracks in St. Louis, and they really had no place to go.”

According to Trotter, when utility companies turn the heat off for lack of payment during the winter, they are required to turn the heat back on with either a $500 payment or 50 percent of the outstanding balance if the customer previously had taken advantage of the Cold Weather Rule. If the customer had not taken advantage of the rule, Trotter said, the payment is 12 percent of the outstanding balance. Utility companies in Missouri are allowed to disconnect service if the temperature is 32 degrees or higher.

DiLeo said if “you just can’t afford to heat your home, you shouldn’t have to choose between taking medication or turning the heat on.”

Heat-Up St. Louis, which also runs Cool-Down St. Louis in the summer months, sponsors fundraising events throughout the year to help those in need, including collecting donations at the upcoming Rams game, Sunday, Nov. 26.

“Anything anybody can give really does make a difference,” DiLeo said, noting that donations can be made through e-mail, over the phone or over the Internet, and are all tax-deductible.

“We all learned this summer what it is like when our electricity went off and we had no air conditioning,” she said. “Can you imagine elderly people who cannot afford to turn the air on and they live in that heat and in brick houses that just suck in the heat? You really appreciate that you can just go in and whip that air conditioner on.”

According to Sherry Hartz, financial assistance social worker for Jewish Family and Children Services, the need for assistance in paying for heating and other utilities is cross-denominational.

Hartz said there is a great need within the Jewish community, and within the community at large, and that JF &CS has several funds and one specific donor-based program that assists people in paying their utilities.

Louis Albert, executive director of JF &CS, said the “need in this area that exists always exceeds the dollars that are available. Although many of the funds that we are able to distribute focus on needs within the Jewish community, we always talk with people about other resources that may help to meet their needs, such as Heat-Up St. Louis.”

Newmark said Heat-Up St. Louis is “probably one of the best charities I’ve seen, bar none, because everybody volunteers their time and their shekels and so forth, and it is just terrific.”

“Talk about fulfilling the mitzvah of tzedakah, that would be Heat-Up St. Louis, because absolutely every penny we get helps other people, and there is nothing better than that. It is a life and death matter for folks, literally.”

Trotter echoed those sentiments, stating, “As we fuel peoples’ homes, we are fueled by faith.”

To learn more or make a donation to Heat-Up St. Louis, visit www.heatupstlouis.org, or call 314-241-7668. To contact JF &CS, call 314-993-1000.