For the third consecutive year, Washington Gas set its sights on raising money to fund critical heating assistance for struggling area residents, hosting a Washington Area Fuel Fund (WAFF) Ice House event in the District. With partners that included The Salvation Army, NBC4/Telemundo, WTOP, The Washington Post, Monumental Sports & Entertainment, Washington Gas hosted two days of fun activities for children and adults.

With frigid temperatures and bone-chilling winds already moving in throughout the region, The Ice House played an even more important role: to shed light on the reality of families living without heat this winter season while providing an opportunity for the public and concerned citizens to address this critical issue.

Just imagine the pain, suffering and discomfort endured — the fear and anxiety which continue to overwhelm so many in the District, particularly households with children, as financial constraints make it nearly impossible to heat their homes in this season when it’s needed most.

So, with the needs of others as the focus, the event took place Jan. 17 and 18 at The Wharf on the main District Pier located at the Waterfront in Southwest. The proceeds will benefit the WAFF — a 37-year-old program led by Washington Gas and The Salvation Army with 100 percent of every dollar donated going to assist identified persons or homes.

John O’Brien, executive vice president for Strategy & Public Affairs of Washington Gas, led last Saturday’s ribbon-cutting opening ceremony and the official christening of the Ice House. He says the priority remains the same as it has for almost four decades — supporting families that need a little help.

“You can never do enough and the issue and need is urgent for thousands right here in D.C., Virginia and Maryland,” he said. “Last year, we raised $1.7 million which helped heat the homes of 8,500 families. Still, many are unaware that help is available. Only 20 percent of eligible families received federal heating aid within our service territory. These statistics reinforce the importance of this need and remind that we must raise awareness.”

WAFF has served a quarter of a million low-to-moderate income families in the District, Maryland and Virginia who cannot pay their energy bills and face the challenges of living in cold homes.

The WAFF Ice House has become a celebrated occasion that has generated awareness about the thousands of families, senior adults and veterans who live in freezing conditions at home, and how WAFF has proven to lend financial assistance time and again. Last year, a total of $150,000 was raised through the event, which included an average offering of $223 and 443 first-time donors. These donations enabled WAFF to give the gift of heat to an additional 230 families throughout the region last year.

“As we begin the new year, we are delighted to once again join with our customers and neighbors across the region to give the gift of paying energy bills for those in need through thoughtful donations from the WAFF initiative. Most of all, Washington Gas is honored to ensure that every dollar goes to the fund because we pay all administrative costs to run the program so each penny helps an individual or family directly,” said Blue Jenkins, president, Washington Gas.

“The Ice House event unites all of us around a serious issue in a very visually compelling and dramatic way. It allows us to appreciate the terrible condition of living with no heat all while creating a fun and entertaining experience for the community to lend a hand and enjoy themselves,” Jenkins said.

This year’s WAFF Ice House was a 10-foot by 20-foot structure made from 88 ice blocks designed and built by Ice Lab. By simulating the harsh environment of a home without heat, it draws attention to the cause and connects people to WAFF’s mission of distributing financial aid to those who would otherwise be forced to endure a cold home every day.

The importance of assisting residents who cannot afford heating has intensified over the years with colder-than-usual winters in the Washington, D.C. area. Fewer than 2 in 10 people eligible for federal energy assistance actually receive it due to a lack of funds to meet the growing demand. In addition, families living in poverty spend more than 30 percent of their income on energy bills.

One resident expressed her thanks for the support she recently received from the WAFF program run by Washington Gas and The Salvation Army.

“It is very stressful to live without heat, especially for my kids as they can get sick because there is no heat and they have trouble sleeping in the cold,” said Marlen Gallo Reyes, WAFF recipient and mother of five who live in an apartment in Arlington, Virginia. She learned about WAFF last year through her local Salvation Army.

“Because of WAFF, I am very happy that I do not have to be in the cold this year. There are organizations and companies that can help you. There are good people in the world. I am very happy for myself and my five kids that these good people have helped,” she said.

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D. Kevin McNeir – Senior Editor

Dominic Kevin McNeir is an award-winning journalist with more than 25 years of service for the Black Press (NNPA). Prior to moving East to assist his aging parents in their struggles with Alzheimer’s,...

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