Tanisha Love isn’t afraid of much, but on winter’s coldest days, she’s scared to turn on the heat in her apartment.
A native of Jamaica, Love moved to the U.S. with her mother in 2005 to finish her senior year of high school. Following graduation, Love earned a track-and-field scholarship to Winston-Salem State University, where she studied sociology.
She worked as a children’s mentor for a faith-based organization, while continuing to pursue her passion for running.
“That was the best job I ever had,” Love said. “Being a big sister-like mentor to kids was very fulfilling, and I was making a big difference in the community.”
But the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic dissolved the company, and she lost her income. Compounding that hardship, her apartment’s utility bills sometimes would be as high as $500 and over some months, far more than within her budget, even before she lost her job.
“I’ll be in here freezing, because I’m scared to turn on the heat,” she said.
Love receives utility assistance from the Piedmont Natural Gas Share the Warmth program funds, dispersed by Crisis Assistance Ministry in Charlotte.
“Before, I used to be very stressed out and living check to check,” Love said. “They’re now my peace of mind. They know that I won’t abuse the system; they see me work, and they help me get back on my feet.”
Since 2003, Share the Warmth has provided more than $4.1 million to its partner organizations in North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee to help people through short-term financial crises.
“What’s wonderful about the Share the Warmth program,” said Liana Humphrey with Crisis Assistance Ministry, “is that it helps to meet a gap that might exist in order to help resolve someone’s crisis.”
“A particularly cold winter or a medical emergency could create financial crisis for families.” And that was before the pandemic, when, she said, about $400 would resolve a crisis. Now, the need is at least 50 percent greater to help stabilize housing and utility payments.
Metropolitan Action Commission (MAC) is a Nashville-based organization that helps residents break the cycle of poverty by administering rent and utility assistance, children and youth food service, education, and more.
“Due to the pandemic, more families, or more individuals, that had been OK are now finding themselves in need of services like ours for the very first time,” said MAC Director of Communications Lisa McCrady.
In March 2020, Nashville experienced two catastrophic tornadoes, at the same time the pandemic was accelerating. That month, over 900 people needed energy assistance compared with average monthly numbers between 200 and 300.
In addition to the Share the Warmth funds, Piedmont stepped helped fill other needs - socks, blankets, food kits - for a warming shelter.
“About 1,000 homeless people were able to get the help they needed,” said McCrady. “That’s not natural gas but that is absolutely addressing a need we have in our community.”
Other needs since the pandemic, Humphrey said, include food insecurity and the lack of computers and internet, especially given the increase in virtual school and work.
Though the CARES Act provided money to help families affected by the pandemic, Humphrey said it has not been enough to meet the need and multiple funding streams have further complicated the process of receiving aid.
While eviction moratoriums have helped provide temporary stability, Humphrey said, “once it’s lifted, those bills still come due.”
In 2009, Piedmont Natural Gas added Round Up to the Share the Warmth program, giving customers a way to help, too. To participate, customers authorize Piedmont to round up their utility bills to the nearest dollar, with that change going to the program.
In 2020, Round Up raised more than $345,000 for its partner organizations.
Barbara Ashford, Piedmont director of natural gas community relations, has worked on the program since its inception. “It’s so simple and it doesn’t cost a lot,” she said. “A little change every month can make such a change in someone’s life.”
Piedmont also increased its annual $100,000 donation to the program to $150,000. “That increase was due to the pandemic, and folks not having resources to pay their energy bills,” Ashford said. “There was a moratorium on disconnects and late fees, of course, but we wanted to provide additional support, because we wanted this assistance to be ongoing.”
Recipients don't have to be Piedmont Natural Gas customers. “That’s what I’m most proud of,” said Ashford. “Regardless of the energy source, we will help.”
Share the Warmth
Where to get help
- Crisis Assistance Ministry (Mecklenburg County)
- North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (all other North Carolina counties)
- South Carolina Office of Economic Opportunity (Anderson, Cherokee, Greenville and Spartanburg counties)
- Metro Action Commission (Davidson County)
- Mid-Cumberland Community Action Agency (Cheatham, Robertson, Rutherford, Sumner, Trousdale, Williamson and Wilson counties)
- Highland Rim Economic Corporation (Dickson County)
How you can help
To sign up for Round Up, customers can log in to their accounts and click the Share the Warmth button; complete the form on the back of their paper bill; or text SHARE to 21209.
“It’s really easy to sign up,” said Ashford. “And the most it will cost is $12 a year.”