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“Heat Bank” warms homes and hearts

HALIBURTON COUNTY-“I had never anticipated it would be like this,” John Teljeur says. “I delivered a lot of wood to people that you can’t unsee what you’ve seen.

Teljeur is one of the founders of the Heat Bank Haliburton County. They provide free firewood to anyone in Haliburton County who can’t afford to heat their home.  “I’ve seen one senior that you’ll never forget, she had basically moved all her life to the kitchen of her house, plastic cordoned off all the entrances to the kitchen to keep the heat in and she was living beside her electric stove,” John Teljeur recalls.  “The woodstove that she had, she was burning whatever furniture she could burn and all the plywood she had on her walls was gone. Not to mention she was currently going through chemotherapy.” The woman Teljeur is talking about was one of the first people the recieve wood from the Heat Bank.

The Heat Bank began in 2013 after Teljeur got tired of hearing about people in need with nowhere to turn. He started cutting wood, built a shelter and set out to deliver free wood to those who were left out in the cold.  Then Tina Jackson came on board as Co-founder and Program Coordinator. “I work directly with households who are experiencing a crisis as well as help with growing and shaping the services that we offer.” Jackson told Kawartha 411.

A year later they couldn’t keep up. “In 2014 we ended up having weather very much like we are having this year where its minus 22, minus 30 and in 2014 it would be two or three weeks of that and so the people who we probably never would have seen looking for help suddenly found themselves in dire straights because they were running out of wood or fuel because it was so cold.” Teljeur says. “Honestly it was complete chaos because nobody was ready for that and so there was a couple of organizations in the area that were trying to help out , none of them really had the resources to do that.”

As the season wound down the volunteers got together and decided to re-group and re-organize. “We brought everybody together and said lets figure out a way to do this better. We looked at what else was out there and we looked at each of the models that were out there and said ok lets rebuild this whole thing.”

They turned to A Place Called Home (APCH)in the City of Kawartha Lakes. Teljeur says they liked their intake process and they like the way APCH looked at the bigger issues that were contributing to the problem. “We liked the way they did it so that you can determine whether there’s more things going on rather than just running out of heat, because it’s never just about that.” Teljeur says. “We don’t want to just donate wood and give fuel we want to be able to help these people beyond that, so that was the basis of what we did.”

That’s what differentiates the Heat Bank from other similar assistance programs according to Teljeur. They teamed up with the Central Food Network to triage people and find out what else is going on, helping people get their taxes done or get identification so they can apply for the other assistance they need. “We had a gentleman who had a job, he just couldn’t afford to get his truck fixed, he needed a three hundred dollar part, so we got the money for it so he could go back and forth to work.” And then there was a family of six who ran out of propane just days before Christmas last year. “Almost at this time last year, young couple with 4 kids, couldn’t afford to get propane delivered.  We intervened with the propane company and guanranteed payment.”

The Heat Bank received a $130,000 grant through a Homelessness Prevention Program in 2016. It’s part of a three year initiative to keep the Heat Bank going and provide educational programs and other services fo those in need. In 2016 the Heat Bank helped over 200 people collectively and assisted over 80 households with firewood.  30% of those involved kids and 22% were seniors.

They currently have 13 core volunteers and are in the process of bringing in 5 more. “We also have approximately 60 supporters who come out to volunteer once or twice a year to help split wood, move wood or cook hot sauce.” Jackson explains.  “We have community wood splitting days (usually in the fall) in which we invite members of the community to come out to help split and stack wood. Usually, approximately 1/3 of the volunteers on these days are people who have previously received assistance from the program.”

They have also streamlined the delivery process. When the Heat Bank began all of the fire wood went through one central location in Minden but that left people in more rural areas vulnerable if there was a heat emergency. Now they store wood at six locations called Wood Banks, throughout the county.

Teljeur and the others spend their summer chopping wood for the Heat Bank. It’s back breaking work but something Teljeur says he and his wife Sonja feel compelled to do ever since the birth of their daughter. “Having her being born was basically a miracle,” Teljeur explains, his voice quiverring.  “We had five miscarriages along the way, for her to be born in the first place was a miracle and I thank god for every blessing he’s given us in allowing that to happen. To almost lose her a couple more times in those first few years just reinforced you need to do everything you can to repay that debt.”

His daughter Sarah was born with five VSD’s (Ventricular Septal Defect) in her heart. Teljeur says Sarah underwent a routine procedure to clear her airwaves when she was less than a week old but the tube they used was not meant for a child her age and resulted in her airwaves closing. Then when she was two years old she developed a severe febrile seizure and stopped breathing and had to be rushed to the hospital. Teljeur performed resuscitation as his wife called 911. He says there was a big snowsotrm that night and it took the ambulance about 10 minutes to arrive. “I was able to get her breathing and used bags of frozen peas to get her temperature down.” Teljeur recalls. “Every once in a while Sarah would be able to be lucid enough to say “dada”. The ambulance arrived and put her in the vehicle as I followed her out. The doors closed, and composed until then, I fell to my knees and cried.”

Sarah is 8 years old now and is doing well. She goes to Sick Kids Hosptial in Toronto once a year for check ups.  Something John Teljeur is very grateful for. “It leaves you with an incredible understanding how precious life is and how important it is for you to do something while you still here that matters more than just to yourself,” he says. “So what if I have to cut firewood for the summer to help others, I will do that every day of the week. I’m paying that debt off for the rest of my life.”

The Heat Bank model has been adopted in Hastings and a group in the City of Kawartha Lakes are looking at it as well.  For more information call Tina Jackson at 705-306-0565 of click here: http://heatbankhaliburtoncounty.weebly.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Pamela Vanmeerhttps://www.kawartha411.ca/
Pamela VanMeer is a two time winner of the prestigious Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) Award. Her investigative reports on abuse in Long Term Care Homes garnered international attention for the issue and won the Ron Laidlaw Award. She is a former reporter and anchor at CHEX News, now Global Peterborough and helped launch the New CHEX Daily, a daily half hour talk show. While at CHCH News in Hamilton she covered some of the biggest news stories of the day.

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