People have different reasons for seeking emergency help. But many of them make the same reluctant confession: “I never thought I’d be here.”
It could be a mother escaping domestic violence. Or a single parent who gets sick and then loses a job. Or someone who was barely making ends meet whose rent goes up 25%. Crisis Assistance Ministry clients are often hard-working people in the Charlotte, N.C., area who find themselves in sudden – and unexpected – financial trouble.
The average Charlotte-area household needs $163 to prevent the electricity from being disconnected, said Carol Hardison, Crisis Assistance Ministry’s CEO.
Working with Duke Energy and Piedmont Natural Gas, Crisis Assistance is able to help people stave off financial ruin. Hardison is a former Duke Energy employee who recalled the pride she felt about working for a company that helped people in crisis keep the heat on in the winter. Now, she meets the people the program supports – those desperate to stay warm and stay in their homes. “I see people every day,” she said, “who are being kept from freezing because of Duke Energy generosity.”
- Text “SHARE” to 30296, or go to www.duke-energy.com/donatenow.
- Mail checks to: Share the Warmth Fund, The Duke Energy Foundation, P.O. Box 35469, Charlotte, NC 28254-3429.
- Piedmont customers can enroll to round up their monthly bill up to the nearest dollar – totaling no more than $12 a year – and donate the difference to help those in need at piedmontng.com/sharethewarmth.
- Mail checks to: Piedmont Natural Gas Share the Warmth, Attention: Community Relations, 4720 Piedmont Row Drive, 8th Floor, Charlotte, NC 28210.
The alliance between Duke Energy and Crisis Assistance Ministry dates to 1985. Since its inception, Duke Energy – through contributions from customers, employees and the Duke Energy Foundation – has contributed more than $35 million to Share the Warmth through Crisis Assistance and 85 other service agencies.
The Piedmont Natural Gas Share the Warmth program has contributed more than $3.7 million in customer and corporate donations since 2003 to Crisis Assistance and other organizations to help struggling residents in North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.
Desperate people will take big risks to get by, Hardison said. A handful of house fires in the area every winter are due to portable kerosene heaters catching fire. When the power’s been disconnected, your options dwindle. Fast.
A single mother of two has been in that grim situation recently. The mother of a 4-year-old and a 9-year-old had steady work as housekeeping manager at a Charlotte-area hotel. When her mom survived a stroke in September, she became her full-time caregiver. She lost her job after struggling to manage work with a disabled mother now living with her. Soon after – when she was on the verge of having her power disconnected – she went to Crisis Assistance Ministry.
“I felt relieved the minute I walked in,” she said. “I felt like someone cared – like God was on my side. My next step, if they had turned me away, would’ve been the shelter.”
She was in a tough spot a couple of winters ago, and her power was cut off. She didn’t want to endure that again. She landed a new job and intends to be self-sufficient and current with her bills soon.
Just getting to Crisis Assistance is an ordeal for many. “People will take public transit or use their limited funds for a Lyft or Uber,” Hardison said. In December, Hardison heard about a disabled client who navigated her electric wheelchair to the Crisis Assistance office. The battery ran out on her way there, and she had to stop at a gas station to recharge. The trip took her all day.
During a crisis – when people just need one lucky break – many find that one blow follows another. Losses are multiplied.
“Almost half of our clients are in a temporary tough spot,” Hardison said. “They just need one moment of grace to get back on their feet. They need time to work out a plan.”
Share the Warmth applicants don’t have to be Duke Energy customers, said Cindy Givens, senior product and services specialist. But they must have a natural gas or electric utility account and live in a county served by Share the Warmth.
Duke Energy matches contributions – from employees, shareholders, customers and anyone else who wishes to donate – up to $500,000. Crisis Assistance also gets funding from government, corporate and private donations and United Way. In 2019, the Carolina Panthers joined Duke Energy to help fund Share the Warmth. The Carolina Panthers Foundation contributed $1,000 per quarterback sack and guaranteed a minimum of $15,000. The grand total was $15,000.
Duke Energy launched a text-to-give campaign in 2019, allowing anyone, anywhere – such as fans at a Panthers game – to text SHARE to 30296 and enter a credit card donation. A “donate now” page is also new to Duke Energy’s website.
Duke Energy contributed nearly $1.2 million in 2019 to help individuals and families. So far this winter, 907 Crisis Assistance customers have been helped through Share the Warmth. They are, Hardison stresses, regular people who’ve had something go wrong. But they’re resilient. They do what it takes to get back on solid footing while somehow maintaining their optimism.
The single mom, eager to provide for her mother and children, said, “It’s gonna get better.”
Share the Warmth donations are still being accepted this season for distribution to area assistance agencies in March.
Sharing the Warmth; spreading it around
Duke Energy helps customers outside the Carolinas, too. Click here to find an assistance program throughout Duke Energy’s territory in North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee.