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'Keep The Lights On': WKYC Studios campaign raises $30,000 for those facing utility shutoffs

You exceeded our expectations, so we are raising our goal to $50,000! You can donate by visiting www.KeepTheLightsOnCLE.org.

CLEVELAND — 3News called on you to help your neighbors in need and you answered, helping us raise $30,000 for our 'Keep The Lights On CLE' campaign.

You exceeded our expectations but we still have two weeks left of our campaign. So, we are raising our goal to $50,000!

You can donate by visiting www.KeepTheLightsOnCLE.org. Every nickel we raise will go to Northeast Ohioans facing utility shutoffs.

"What is your biggest fear?" 3News investigator Rachel Polansky asked.

"That I might freeze to death because they're gonna cut my power off," Terrance Dewalt answered.

The things we take for granted are what Cleveland resident and army veteran Terrance Dewalt fear the most.

"What's in my hand is bills that are surely getting ready to shut off," said Dewalt.

Credit: WKYC
Terrance Dewalt

Dewalt is one of 14,700 Northeast Ohioans who applied for assistance since the start of the pandemic. Jennifer Toth, of Lakewood, did too.

"I wake up every day thinking, 'Is this the day that the worst could happen?'" Toth admitted.

Disabled for 16 years with lupus, her social security income is fixed; her days of worry are not.

"In the beginning of COVID, it changed everything for me," Toth said. "Just everything, basic needs, the cost went astronomically high."

Neither received assistance. While local nonprofits like CHN Housing Partners have made 5,500 payments to utility providers totaling $12 million dollars on behalf of applicants, the need for help far outweighs the available funding.

That's part of the reason WKYC Studios and CHN Housing Partners launched our "Keep the Lights On CLE" campaign, an effort to raise money for those in our community facing utility shutoffs.

"When I saw your story, I said, 'This is it, this is where I want to send it,'" Northeast Ohio donor Tracy Kopkas said. "[To] people who. through no fault of their own, are struggling. And we're so blessed, God's been good to us, so it's our turn."

While the campaign won’t cure the root issues of the crisis, the hope is to provide some temporary relief to those in need.

"We're seeing an unprecedented need during this crisis, and it's a different need than what we've seen before because of all the job loss people have had," Kevin Nowak, executive director of CHN Housing Partners, said.

Nowak said this crisis is not just affecting low-income families – but also those who have never applied for assistance before.

"We're seeing first-time applicants," he added. "The restaurant worker at your favorite restaurant where the restaurant closed or had reduced hours. The service worker, or health care worker, that single mom who needed to take time off to take care of their children because their children weren't in school because the schools were closed. That all results in people not being able to pay their bills and not being able to keep their lights on."

RELATED: Keep the lights on: The need for utility assistance in Northeast Ohio far outweighs the available funding

Some people may not qualify for assistance because their income is not below a certain percent of the federal poverty guidelines. Others may not qualify because they haven't been unemployed long enough.

"It provides flexibility for us to address more need," Nowak explained. "We only have a certain pot of dollars provided by the government. Those dollars are not as flexible as many people will need and they don't cover your entire viewing area. So what [Keep The Lights On CLE] allows us to do is fill the gaps within the system."

You can head to www.KeepTheLightsOnCLE.org to donate. Every nickel we raise will go toward Northeast Ohioans facing utility shutoffs.

Of course, this campaign will not solve the utility crisis. Our hope is to bring some short-term relief for those who really need it. This campaign was born out of a WKYC Studios report with Northeast Ohio Solutions Journalism Collaborative.

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