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The Price of Staying Warm

In the midst of one of the coldest winters in a generation, We Are Hope, Inc. is proving to be one of the most important charities in Door County of which you’ve never heard.

Formerly known as WEP, Inc. (Women’s Employment Project), they recently changed their name to We Are Hope, Inc. because they have equally served both women and men for years. Unfortunately, their new name sometimes causes them to be confused with the 133-year-old Hope Church, although the two organizations are not related.

We Are Hope is an umbrella organization for several important community programs. It’s perhaps best known for administering the Door County Job Center. They offer career counseling, workshops on interview skills and resume writing, and of course maintain listings of job openings all over the state of Wisconsin.

With the Artic vortex bringing sub-zero temperatures to Door County several times already this winter, the WHEAP program at We Are Hope is proving to be invaluable. WHEAP, the Wisconsin Home Energy Assistance Program, is providing absolutely critical financial assistance to help people keep their homes warm. Not surprisingly, during this ridiculously cold winter, the WHEAP program has simply been overwhelmed.

Gina Wautier, development and energy assistance manager at We Are Hope, puts it bluntly, “With the propane shortage, it’s just insane.”

“We’re getting not only our normal clients who are already booked out two months in advance,” says Wautier, “We’re also getting people who can’t afford to heat their homes because of the prices of propane.” Wautier says that many of their clients have seen the cost of propane rise from $1.80 to $2 a gallon to as high as $7 a gallon, depending on the provider.

Families in Door County are facing the perfect storm of propane prices doubling or tripling at the same time the artic-like temperatures are causing families to use far more propane than normal. The net effect, according to Wautier, is that a family could see their heating cost as much as quadruple this year. In a normal winter, many of these families would never need assistance from WHEAP, but this is not a normal winter.

“Yesterday I had a call from a gal who said we make a decent income, but we simply didn’t budget for this,” says Wautier.

WHEAP financial assistance is typically available to families who make 60 percent of the state median income or less. That’s $32,290 in annual income for a single parent with a child. It’s $47,485 for a family of four. Wautier says the average assistance is about a quarter of your heating and electric bills – and the money is normally paid directly to the utility companies and/or propane distributers.

For those who make 60 to 80 percent of state median income, Wautier says they can still provide some limited assistance through the Keep Wisconsin Warm Fund.

Last year, We Are Hope helped 1,230 Door County families through the WHEAP program, which runs from October through May. This year, Wautier says they’ve already served 954 households, and they’re only halfway through their program season.

While there is federal and state money in the WHEAP program, We Are Hope is required to raise additional community dollars in order to adequately provide the service. Two staff people are supposed to each dedicate half their time to the WHEAP program, but Wautier says that over the last month, it’s been a full-time job and is overwhelming the resources of this modest nonprofit organization.

We Are Hope offers limited “crisis dollars” to help in emergency situations. Wautier says that during the entire winter thus far, they’ve served 50 families with crisis dollars. After last month’s utility bills arrived, they helped 25 more families just this past week alone. And another 50 or so households are in the middle of the application process for assistance.

Wautier feels strongly that people should not hesitate to seek assistance if they need it. “You don’t have to feel a stigma about it,” says Wautier, “It’s not a handout, it’s a hand up.”

One client recently asked, “If you help me now, can I give it back later?” While it’s certainly not required, Wautier made clear that community contributions are not only welcome, they are essential if we are going to continue to ensure that all of Door County’s families are safe and warm this winter.

If you’re interested in learning more, or would like to make a contribution to help your friends and neighbors during this Arctic freeze, visit wearehopeinc.org. Or you can simply mail your donation to We Are Hope, Inc. at 1300 Egg Harbor Road, Suite 124, Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235.

If your family is struggling to make ends meet and needs a little helping hand this winter, call We Are Hope at 920.743.7273 and the good folks there would be glad to serve you.