The Heat and Warmth Fund (THAW) is an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that distributes assistance to vulnerable Michigan residents through 39 agency partners and a series of annual mobile processing events. The number of households that need utility assistance continues to grow each year.

Last year THAW distributed more than $15 million in utility assistance to nearly 18,000 Michigan households. Recipients of THAW assistance include the elderly, unemployed, underemployed, and disabled individuals who found themselves in an energy crisis. More than 70% of the households have a child or senior in the home. These populations are especially vulnerable to the cold.
Below is a letter from CEO, Saunteel Jenkins, that was sent to the entire THAW community.

Dear Team THAW,

I have been thinking about you all during these difficult times and trying to come up with the right words. The truth is that I, too, am struggling to find my voice in it all.
I, like so many others, had great expectations for all the good things 2020 would bring personally and professionally. I envisioned a year full of joyful celebrations within my immediate family, as well as those we would celebrate as a work family at THAW.

So far, 2020 has not been what any of us expected. In fact, this year has challenged us in unimaginable ways. As we face the fear, trauma, and loss caused by the COVID-19 virus, we are also trying to process the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Brionna Taylor, the latest three African Americans who lost their lives – unjustly and too soon.
The anxiety caused by COVID-19 is new to all, but the fear, anxiety, hurt and devastation associated with the deaths of George, Ahmaud, and Brionna are not new to many of us. Managing the loss and life changes dictated by the virus has only been compounded by systemic racism.

The disproportionate impact of the pandemic on people of color, as well as the disproportionate impact of violence on black people, has caused an ache in my heart that won’t go away. The pain is real. Over the past few months, I’ve cried often, mourning the loss of so many to Corona Virus. Over the past few weeks, I have cried reliving the pain and anger I’ve felt too often mourning lives of black men and women lost at the hands of those who had sworn to protect them.

But this time feels different. Although there are still many unknowns related to Coronavirus, history has shown us that through science and human adaptation, we will eventually beat this virus and regain a sense of normalcy. History has also shown us that when people of all colors, backgrounds, and interests come together to fight for a common cause, change happens. The civil unrest being expressed in peaceful yet determined protests has created a glimmer of hope that the future is not lost. Watching the outpouring of love shown to and by George Floyd’s family—even as they grieve—reminds me that most human beings are kind loving people. It reassures me that even during our darkest times, there is light. It gives me hope for a better tomorrow.

If you feel scared, helpless, or frustrated, you are not alone. It is natural to feel that way when so many things seem out of your control. If you feel angry and want to scream, you are not alone. That is also a natural reaction when you have been systematically ignored and mistreated. This helplessness is what many of the families we serve are feeling every day, and you all continue to help them with grace.

During these difficult times, allow some grace for yourself. It’s okay to cry but find something to smile or laugh about too. It’s okay to be angry. Get it out, then do something positive to create the change you want to see. And don’t forget, you are already fighting the good fight every day. Truly tackling social injustice means embracing equity for all, including environmental and economic equity, which we work to achieve through our mission to empower and stabilize families, keeping them healthy, safe, and warm.

My prayers are with each of you, the families who have lost loved ones to the virus, and families who have lost loved ones to violence and injustice. Until we can all be together again, please stay healthy, stay strong, and keep the faith.