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Turning up the Oregon HEAT

Organization seeks new funding as public need is booming
by: CLIFF NEWELL, Oregon HEAT is stepping up its effort to keep low-income Oregonians warm this winter. From left are Roger Rees, Rachel Carillo, and Lake Oswego’s Colleen Bennett.

In Oregon HEAT's earliest days in 1989, Lake Oswego's Colleen Bennett was thrilled when the organization raised $20,000.

'I thought we did so well,' said Bennett, one of HEAT's founders and currently a member of its board of directors.

These days, Oregon HEAT (Home Energy Assistance Team) is doing infinitely better when it comes to fundraising. Last year the organization raised $1.4 million for people needing financial assistance with their home heating bills.

While that is quite an impressive gain, it unfortunately does not come anywhere close to meeting the need for help in 2008, which has risen dramatically.

'I would really like to see us go over $2 million for the fiscal year, which ends June 30th,' said Rachel Carillo, development director for Oregon HEAT.

Even if that happens, hundreds of thousands of Oregon homes will literally be left in the cold. At its office in the PGE building in Tualatin, Oregon HEAT still has the billboard that was there when Bennett was helping to get the organization off the ground. It has the admonition: 'Eat or Heat? What if a family could only choose one?'

Sadly, it applies more than ever.

'From all sources of help, including federal, state and organizations like Oregon HEAT, we're only going to be able to meet 14 to 18 percent of the need this year,' Oregon HEAT's executive director Roger Rees said. '429,000 Oregon households are at risk of not meeting basic needs. That's basically one out of eight people.'

That means saying 'No' a lot, which brings tears to Carillo's eyes.

'It's especially hard at Christmas, when you tell someone, 'No, I can't help you,' ' Rees said.

So Oregon HEAT is turning up the heat on its fundraising so it can help more struggling people avoid a long, cold winter.

Carillo said, 'With the recent economic downturn, gas prices skyrocketing, and oil prices bebopping all over the graph, people's need for help is growing. We're seeing more middle-income families requiring assistance. It's a whole new clientele.

'People are struggling to meet basic expenses. People who have never before had charitable assistance.'

'It's the working poor, the elderly, the ill,' Bennett said. 'We can never meet the demand.'

But they can try. Oregon HEAT has already formed partnerships with major utility companies like PGE ('They were on board from the beginning,' Bennett said). Now, Carillo said the organization is seeking to form even more of them.

'We're always looking for creative ideas for fundraising,' Carillo said. 'Writing grants, holding special events, workplace gatherings, service clubs. Last month we had our first big golf tournament.'

Especially promising is the new nationally acclaimed Oil Recycling Program, in which local businesses recycle waste petroleum products. Proceeds from their sale go to help low-income residents in communities.

'It's something new and it's never been done before in the USA,' Rees said. 'It allows businesses to donate waste petroleum products and get a tax deduction.'

The key to Oregon HEAT's success is its Web site, which Carillo and Rees say has been especially effective at gaining attention from the public. It is located at http://www.oregonheat.org/.

Public donations result in happy stories. Like the woman who was injured in an automobile accident and was forced to choose between giving up her car or not paying her heating bills. Thanks to Oregon HEAT, she was able to pay her utility bills and graduate from Linn-Benton Community College.

'We want to reach households across the state,' Carillo said. 'We want neighbors keeping their heat and lights on through the winter.'

Then the stories she hears will be happier. Like the young mother who called to say, 'I can give my baby a hot bath now.'

'That's how basic the need is,' Carillo said.