The Eliyahu family finds itself in dire straits. Mrs. Eliyahu suffers from diabetes and requires a lot of care, resulting in her inability to work. Additional expenses accrue from the schooling and therapy of their special needs child.
"Shalom, my name is Esther. I am a widow with nine children. My apartment has no heat whatsoever, and the windows are broken. The cold drafts and rain are unbearable. If you could please help us with a radiator..." Beep.
Mr. Puretz of Warm the Needy is a busy man with numerous obligations who took the time to grant me a short interview. As I took off my coat, he greeted me and led me to the answering machine. Being on two phones at once, with no time to waste, he got straight to the point. He pressed a button and had me listen to the most recent messages. "Yes, this is Yonatan speaking. I am recuperating from a terrible car accident and my bones can't take the cold. I own only one radiator and I put it into the children's room..."
"Shalom. I am a single mother of seven children. As I have not paid my electric bill in a while, our electricity has been turned off. We are cold, and it is dark. The children are scared."
I couldn't listen any more. Could it be? Are there really people out there, in this day and age who don't have heat? Mr. Puretz seemed to read my mind, as he recounted the story of Warm the Needy; how it started and what it is today.
"Two years ago," he began, turning off the ringers so that we'd be left undisturbed, "my friend Moshe called me up. Moshe's father had just built a multi-million dollar house here in Jerusalem, and as a warm - hearted philanthropist, had set aside a generous amount of money to donate to charity. But not just any charity. Mr. Cohen wanted to give the money towards something which people could benefit from in their homes. So Moshe turned to me for assistance. He didn't come a minute too soon. January 2005 was a brutal winter with many people unable to heat their homes. Some old apartments, and many recently built developments were constructed without adequate heating systems, leaving thousands of residents suffering from extreme cold. With Mr. Cohen's donation, I bought radiators at cost price and gave them to families that had no heat and could not afford to buy even the smallest radiator. By the time I had given out all the radiators, many people had already heard about it, and my phone did not stop ringing. What was I supposed to tell a mother of ten orphans: 'I'm sorry, but I ran out of money?' What about a new mother coming home from the hospital to a frigid apartment? The desperate needs of these people forced me to continue. And so, Warm the Needy was founded."
Warm the Needy - Those Who Warm the Heart - answers the bitter cries of these families by providing a high quality, oil filled electric radiator for each family. "In the last few months of last winter alone, 200 families received radiators."
By the following fall, Mr. Puretz was prepared. Or so he thought. He had already raised a considerable amount of money to provide hundreds of families with radiators, and was relieved that this year he'd be able to help whoever called. But the requests came pouring in faster than he could answer the phone. He quickly set up a hotline which people could call at all hours of the day and night, and then went through each request, one at a time. "But of thousands of phone calls from all over the country, how was I supposed to know who was truly needy?" And so, together with a network of community activists in every area around the country, each family's request was considered for approval. "Obviously," remarked Mr. Puretz, "anyone calling for a radiator can't be too well off. Still we had to make sure that the money that we were raising was going to people who had no heat and would make use of the radiator." A system was set up, whereby each family approved received a voucher in the mail that they would redeem in a very respectable manner at a store that provided Warm the Needy with the radiators at a discounted price.
"At a certain point, we began to get different types of phone calls. 'Thank you so much for the radiator, but we rarely turn it on because we cannot pay the exorbitant electric bills.' Or, 'Yes, we could certainly use a radiator, but don't send us one. We can't afford to pay the electric bill.'
"Now here were people who were freezing cold, some who even had a heating system in their apartment that they didn't use because the electric bills were too high! I was flabbergasted. Something had to be done."
Consenquently, Mr. Puretz visited the Israel Electric Company's Jerusalem headquarters. He outlined a plan that would enable him to pay a part of each person's bi-monthly electric bill. Yossi Eluz, Head Manager of the Collection Department, was incredulous. "You mean to say, that you would like to pay thousands of dollars towards the electric bills of people you don't even know?!"
After resolving the numerous difficulties involved, Warm the Needy and the IEC joined efforts in helping the poor. So much so, that Yossi, being familiar with those having the most difficulties paying their bills, began referring people to Mr. Puretz. He passed on the names of tens of customers directly to Warm the Needy.
"How many people can you estimate you've helped since you first started?"
"To date more than one thousand families have benefited from the physical and emotional warmth that Warm the Needy offers. As our third season approaches, we are gearing ourselves up for an even greater demand than the last two years."
"How is this tremendous project funded?" I inquired.
Mr. Puretz answered, "At the end of the first year, when I hadn't planned on officially running an organization, and the opportunity fell into my lap, I just got on the phone and made calls. . By the time the next winter began, and I had inkling that things were going to develop further, I wrote up some letters and had them sent out to different communities in the United States. The response was overwhelming. When it's cold and rainy outside and you open the mail and read about children who are freezing, it's almost impossible not to give. A noted educator in New York was so moved that he initiated a fundraising program. The girls sold raffles and even conducted a bike-a-thon to raise money for Warm the Needy. Though our annual budget is enormous, it does not cost much to warm one family. Two hundred and fifty dollars will provide heat and electricity for a family for one winter. The funds that are raised go directly towards vouchers for the radiators and electric bills are paid directly to the company."
Mr. Puretz handed me a pile of envelopes. I sifted through them, overwhelmed by the heartfelt letters of Warm the Needy's recipients.
" The Kingdom of chessed, Warm the Needy, I cannot thank you enough for the radiator that warms us on these terribly cold days. Till now we only had a small blower, and we practically froze! You should have the ability to provide warmth to all our brothers in Israel?"
"We have been blessed with unbelievable siyata d'shmaya in our work," concluded Mr. Puretz. "After months of negotiations, we succeeded in establishing a link with the IEC's computer system; we now have the technical ability to help thousands of cold families nationwide. We just have to come up with the necessary funds."
"How do you plan on doing that," I asked. Raising such a huge sum of money seems like a tremendous undertaking to me.
Mr. Puretz replied, "Fundraising takes up a lot of my time. This year, we designed an informative brochure that details the basic goals and accomplishments of our project. These will be distributed to schools that undertake projects like raffles and auctions to help us. I find that awareness alone garners a lot of support for Warm the Needy, as it is an organization that helps families from all walks of life. I would also like to initiate some sort of sister program whereby communities worldwide will undertake to raise money to provide heat for communities all over Israel. Hopefully, we will be able to put together the necessary funds so that we will not be forced to turn down desperate families." I thanked Mr. Puretz for his time and thoughtfully made my way home. The strong winds and driving rain continued to rage, reminding me how fortunate I am for the blessing of a warm home.