Walking for Warmth

Today we’re walking for warmth. The United Way of Anchorage is putting on their third annual Walk for Warmth this weekend. The event began as an effort to aid people with living costs during the winter, and to prevent homelessness.

Meghan Clemens, the project’s manager, says rent and utility assistance together are the single biggest unmet need the United Way sees in Anchorage.  And, it’s clear that to Clemens, this is more than just a job. On top of managing the walk, she has personally raised more than $1,000. Her secret is not being shy about the facts.

“I just try to get the word out about that need, let people know the impact that it can have in preventing family homelessness and just shamelessly email my friends and family and repost on Facebook that they’re just so sick of hearing about it they go ahead and donate,” says Clemens.

Donations to the Walk for Warmth are strictly for the Anchorage area, but the United Way has services to lend assistance to those in need anywhere in the state.

“United Way has a service called Alaska 211, and so just how you can call 411 or 911, you can dial 211 anywhere in the state of Alaska and be connected to a resource referral specialists, let them know what your problem is, and they can direct you to any agency in the state that might be able to help you out,” says Clemens.

United Way Walk for Warmth

One of those agencies, is the Lutheran Social Services of Alaska. They’re the ones who receive all of the funds raised from the Walk for Warmth. Alan Budahl is the executive director of the group.  Budahl is thrilled that his group is the sole recipient of the Walk for Warmth funds. He says the need for rental and utility assistance in the winter is high, and with Anchorage’s rising homeless rates people are running out of places to go.

“One of the things we’re trying to do is prevent homelessness because our shelters have such a long waiting list, and they’re full to capacity,” says Budahl.  He has seen a lot of people benefit from the walk funds. Last year they were able to prevent more than 60 families from becoming homeless. He says the people asking for help come  from all kinds of backgrounds.  “Single parents struggling with children.  Those who are trying to care for ill parents. We’ve had cases of students that are struggling to work part time, go full time to college, and still stay ahead.”

In addition to distributing funds, the Lutheran Social Services of Alaska offers counseling to help families further down the road.

“We try to help people get caught up, but at the same time try to look at ‘okay, what’s going to happen next month,’ just to make sure we’re not buying 30 more days, and how can we help you get out of the situation that you’re in,” says Budahl.

Although the walk has raised more money in each of its years, it’s still not enough to keep up with demand.  Budahl regrets that they can not do more. “I wish it’s something that we could do daily, and help people with every call that comes in. Unfortunately the funds just don’t last that long.”

While the challenges are tough, and the issues serious, Meghan Clemens encourages participants of the Walk for Warmth to have fun, and to be as creative as possible. “I would say think of what you can bring to also make the event fun. Last year we had a couple groups that came out in costume. Some people had participated before or seen the signs and clearly put a little thought into what sort of extra flair they wanted on their signage. Just however you want to come out and keep the energy up.”

In closing, Clemens says, “There’s no registration fee or anything. Anyone is welcome to come out and join in, on February 9th, showing your support out there. But of course, fund raising is encouraged and appreciated so if you can make a donation or if you would like to make a fund raising page you can do that online at our website at liveunitedanchorage.org.”

The third annual Walk for Warmth is this Saturday at Anchorage’s Delaney Park Strip.

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TS49 Radio Walk for Warmth