With winter and the giving season starting, several local organizations are trying to collect about $3,000 to buy senior citizens heaters for their homes.

This year’s Share the Heat campaign started about three weeks ago. The annual effort provides small space heaters with safety features for people 60 and older. Retailers often stop carrying the heaters by the end of January to make room for spring and summer products, so organizers are making a push for donations now to ensure heaters are available through the winter.

“We learned when we have the money up front, we can buy almost all the heaters we can with what was left over from last year,” said Laura Ziemer, client services director at Meals on Wheels Waco. “Our plan is that December is when we’re hoping to have our largest, most successful giving month, and we can then get most of the heaters and January would be when it wrapped up.”

Ziemer has helped coordinate the campaign with other nonprofits the last two years, and Meals on Wheels Waco has become the central hub for donations. Many of the seniors the group serves can benefit from Share the Heat, she said. Many are home-bound, and about 40 percent are low income.

Friends for Life, Enrich Seniors, Caritas, the Heart of Texas Aging and Disability Resource Center, Act Locally Waco and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission’s 2-1-1 Texas program are also participating in Share the Heat.

The groups are trying to gather enough donations for about 150 heaters, at about $20 apiece, Ziemer said. So far, the campaign has brought in enough for 35 heaters, but donations spiked when fliers about the campaign were distributed three weeks ago and have tapered off since, she said.

“We’re just in the beginning stages, actually. We’re still in the process of raising money for buying more because really after the start of the year is when we get a lot of requests,” said Donna Baugh, the independent living and equality of life coordinator at Friends for Life.

The nonprofit often operates as the support system for seniors and people with disabilities who don’t have family to care for them, Baugh said. Last year, Friends for Life gave out about 20 heaters to its clients and the group often has repeat requests asking for a second or third heater to warm an additional room, she said.

Though Waco is not forecast to see a particularly cold winter, cold snaps are always possible, National Weather Service meteorologist Patricia Sanchez said in late September.

“This is what the model suggests, but we cannot disregard a few days if we get a strong cold front that may drop those average temperatures down,” Sanchez said. “We will have to keep an eye out, but most of these upcoming months look to stay dry without any crazy winter weather.”

But the expectation of above-average temperatures does not make the heaters any less important, Ziemer said.

“A lot of the seniors may have older homes that may not be able to sufficiently heat the rooms they sleep in, the living rooms where they stay or the kitchens where they eat,” Ziemer said. “That’s a huge health risk for seniors who may have multiple chronic issues and need to stay healthy when it gets to 30 degrees at night. And some nights, it does.”

Donors can drop off money at the Meals on Wheels Waco office at 501 W. Waco Drive or mail checks made out to “Meals on Wheels Waco” with “heater project” in the memo line to P.O. Box 85, Waco, Texas, 76703.

Meals on Wheels Waco will also accept donations at a booth it will have set up Dec. 16 at the Waco Downtown Farmers Market.

Seniors who need a heater and can not afford to buy one can call 211 for information about how to get one while supplies last, Ziemer said.

“The biggest challenge we face is making sure the word reaches folks about giving,” Ziemer said. “When people hear about the need, it can make a big difference to donate that $20, and that’s someone who has heat for the winter. It’s an ongoing gift.”

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