THE 2020 WALK FOR WARMTH event was quite different from the upcoming walk. Many things have changed due to the pandemic, including an increase in need for more participants to assist with helping vulnerable residents with heating costs.

(Independent File Photo/Karen Mead-Elford)

   Capital Area Community Services of Shiawassee County (CACS) is hosting the 31st annual Walk for Warmth this February – though the event has been adjusted due to COVID-19 – so the public is invited to register for the walk and help raise funds for vulnerable area families to help with heating expenses. All proceeds from the walk go directly toward local client assistance within Shiawassee County.

  Participants can register online at runsignup.com/Race/Events/MI/ClintonEatonInghamShiawassee/W4W2021 or by calling the CACS office at (989) 723-3115. The office is located at 1845 Corunna Ave., Owosso, but is not currently open to the public, so call ahead. Online registration is $25 with an additional $2.50 sign-up fee.

   According to CACS Director Becky Zemla, the 2021 Walk for Warmth is a virtual-style event so participants can walk at anytime and with any person they would like, keeping social distancing and pandemic protocols in mind. There is not an established course for the walk, but to maintain the tradition of the fundraising effort, every person is invited to help out – and also enjoy some fresh air and exercise.

   The annual CACS Walk for Warmth supports low-income or financially vulnerable households in Shiawassee County during winter months when utility bills can be overwhelming, and given the economy during the pandemic, vulnerable household numbers are on the rise.

   In previous years, low-income people have struggled to pay for heating during the winter, but with COVID-19, far more people have been confronted with financial issues as they have been forced to quarantine due to exposure – sometimes from the work place – and in many cases missing income while they are quarantining. Zemla shared she has seen situations where some individuals have been exposed two or three different times, at work or in other locations, forcing them to miss out on several weeks of income. Zemla said that CACS is often seeing people who don’t have “annual days that they get paid for or sick time or whatever. And then how do they pay their bills? And they don’t necessarily qualify for unemployment, either.”

   “It’s really difficult to sort through and figure out what we can do and what we can’t do to help,” Zemla said. “I’ve seen a lot of cooperation, though. Some of the churches are kicking in and helping people. We copay with them and some other organizations like the disability network and try to keep people in their homes and safe.”

   Zemla relayed a story about a married couple; both parents were employed, but the mother quit her job to stay home with their three children because of online schooling. The father continued working, but was exposed twice at work. Unfortunately, he caught COVID-19 during the second exposure, but had already brought it home to his family, so every member of the family contracted the virus. He had already used up all allotted time off from work due to the first work-related exposure, so with every member in the family having COVID-19, no income was coming in. Numerous residents facing overwhelming heating bills are employed, but due to unusual circumstances, many because of the pandemic, families find themselves confronted with potentially losing heat … or even housing.

   “All we really have is our Walk,” Zemla shared, discussing how critical the upcoming Walk for Warmth is in helping people in need, “to help with some of these families that don’t qualify for other programs.”

   Recently, CACS helped a senior resident who had lost his job. Living in a rural area, he needed to purchase propane, but had taxes to pay. Minus help provided through CACS, he would have been unable to heat his home.

   “You can’t tell them ‘no, you’re just going to be there in the cold,” Zemla said. “You can’t tell them to just run the oven. People need heat.”

   It is difficult to organize people remotely, so organizers at CACS are hoping participants will recognize the critical nature of the need and come together in support of those most at risk. Past walkers are encouraged to reach out to friends and family or churches to garner as much public support as possible. Individuals not interested in participating in Walk for Warmth, can make direct donations, as well. Checks can be sent to 1845 Corunna, Ave., Owosso, MI 48867. Again, all proceeds will go directly to the effort.

2021 Walk for Warmth Participants Needed was last modified: February 16th, 2021 by Karen Elford