After two relatively mild winters in a row, the recent return of bitter cold around the country has led to record-breaking natural gas usage as consumers turned up the heat to keep out the cold.  Arctic blasts of icy air have already brought several days of sub-zero temperatures to southwestern Pennsylvania, and while a warm-up was in effect earlier this week, plenty of winter chill still lies ahead in 2018.

Helping local households defray the cost of utilities used to heat families’ homes is the main mission of the Pittsburgh-based Dollar Energy Fund.  Starting today, organizers are back in downtown Pittsburgh’s Market Square for the fourth year in a row – raising funds and awareness for families who struggle to pay heating bills during the harsh winter months.  The downtown fundraiser known as “Cool Down for Warmth” is centered on a specially constructed “Ice House” that serves as home base for volunteers who put on their coasts, and log time inside the chilly temporary dwelling, helping to drive home the message that many local households may go without heat this winter. 

“We start each new program year on October 1st,” says Dollar Energy Fund Communications Director, Jody Robertson.  “So far this year, we’ve already extended grants to 4,248 families.” 

Marcellus Shale driller Range Resources is a long-time sponsor of the Dollar Energy Fund, and is in fact the largest non-utility supporter helping to provide energy assistance to qualifying households. Range’s Mike Mackin has participated in the Cool Down for Warmth fundraiser for the last three years, and will be back for another round in the Ice House tomorrow alongside Dave Spigelmyer from the Marcellus Shale Coalition, who has partnered annually with member companies to support the effort.

 “For me, having lived my whole life here in Western Pennsylvania, I know how bitterly cold it can get, and we’ve certainly seen that already this winter!” says Mackin. “But while it’s easy for many of us to just turn the furnace up a notch when we’re cold, there are many people in this region who can’t do that – or who need to decide between keeping their family warm and providing groceries that month. It’s wonderful to see so many energy companies and individuals step up to provide energy assistance to those who truly need it, and I’m happy to participate on behalf of Range Resources.”

Jody explains that different utility providers have different income guidelines for families who qualify for assistance. “Some customers may not know that they qualify, and some may not even know there is help available for them. So a lot of what we do is focused on getting the word out, and the Cool Down for Warmth event helps us do that.  It’s very visible for the two days that we’re in downtown Pittsburgh, and it serves as a reminder that there are families who are in the cold.  Many people also decide to donate when they stop by our event.” 

The Ice House is built on location in the days leading up to the event. During construction, builders drill holes and pour hot water between each block, resulting in a quick melt and re-freeze that “welds” the 300-pound-blocks together.  Last year, proceeds from the event totaled $170,000.  Those funds were then used to help 495 families in southwestern Pennsylvania.  Over the last three years, the event has raised over $440,000 – enough to provide assistance to 1,265 local households. 

“We do our best to make sure that donations stay local,” says Robertson.  “One of our core beliefs is: neighbors helping neighbors.  So, when funds come in from Washington County, it’s our goal to direct those dollars back to families in need in that same area.  And, every donation we receive is matched dollar for dollar, throughout the year, by our partnering utility companies.”  Since 1983, the organization has provided more than $134 million in utility assistance grants to more than 480,000 limited-income families and individuals in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Texas and Louisiana.  Dollar Energy Fund is a rated as a 4-Star charity by Charity Navigator, the nation’s largest and most-utilized evaluator of charities. 

If you’re interested in learning more, or to see if you qualify for utility assistance, visit the Dollar Energy Fund website:

You can also donate to Cool Down for Warmth 2018 here:

This article is written and sponsored by Range Resources.