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Beat the Heat program provides free air conditioners

By Angela Ward
June 27, 2012 at 11 p.m.

The family of Tewonda Culpepper got some welcome relief from the summer heat Wednesday when volunteers from the Hiway 80 Rescue Mission installed a free air conditioner in their home as part of the Beat the Heat program.

The program is administered by the Greater Longview United Way and uses volunteers from several nonprofit agencies to provide window unit air conditioners to qualifying local families.

Culpepper lives in south Longview with her adult daughter, Kendra Martin, and Martin's three children.

"This is just wonderful," said Martin. "We had one old window unit air conditioner, but it quit working; so we'd been using fans and taking cold showers to try to cool off."

Culpepper, Martin and one of the children have asthma, which is aggravated by the heat, she said. Her mother also has a heart condition.

"Sometimes my son can't even breathe because he's so hot," Martin said. "I'm very thankful that this program is available and that people are willing to help us out this way."

Tommy Duke, part of the team installing the air conditioner, said fitting the units into the windows of homes that qualify for them - which are usually older houses, often in poor repair - can sometimes be a challenge.

"It's not always easy, but most people receiving these have medical conditions and they're always very grateful, so that makes the work worthwhile," Duke said.

LaDelle Kay with the Greater Longview United Way said that about 135 people have called during the past three weeks to request air conditioners.

She said about 35 had been installed through Wednesday.

"The recipients have to be assessed and the residence where the unit will be installed has to be inspected," Kay said.

Any low-income family in Longview can apply but preference is given to people who are elderly or disabled.

People who want an air conditioner may call the United Way at (903) 236-9211 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday-Wednesday until July 11.

Anyone who received a window unit through the 2011 Beat the Heat program is not eligible to participate this summer.

"Our goal is to distribute at least 150 air conditioners," Kay said. "We're working with other nonprofit agencies to get them installed as quickly as possible."

Mayor Jay Dean, who began the Beat the Heat program in response to the record-breaking summer temperatures in 2011, said he's proud of the way the community has been helping to support the program.

"My concern in starting this program was for our elderly and disabled residents and I'm happy with the the way the Greater Longview United Way and other nonprofit agencies are continuing to meet this need," Dean said.

About 200 air conditioners were installed in 2011, he said. Several local businesses, including the Longview News-Journal, Longview Regional Medical Center and Eastman Chemical Company, provided donations to purchase air conditioners last summer.

Many individuals also made donations. It continues to be funded through private donations, not tax money.



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