Donations help elderly keep warm
Program gives donated heaters to senior citizens

LAWRENCEVILLE - Two Gwinnett County agencies are teaming up as winter nears in an effort to help senior citizens stay warm and cozy in their homes. And they're asking for the public's generosity.

Touted as project AWARE - added warmth assistance for residences of our elderly - the program asks residents to donate new portable electric heaters at Gwinnett County fire stations. The heaters will then be collected by Gwinnett Senior Services to be donated to seniors in need.

"Many seniors struggle to pay their increased heating bills along with their food and prescriptions during these times," Gwinnett Senior Services manager Linda Bailey said in a statement. "Oftentimes, seniors will forego their medication or other basic needs to make ends meet."

In addition to receiving the heater, seniors will also get a smoke detector and information on fire safety. According to Capt. Tommy Rutledge of the Gwinnett County Fire Department, there are many considerations that must be taken into account when purchasing or using a space heater.

"One of the most important things to remember is that a space heater needs space, at least three feet in each direction," Rutledge said. "And never place a space heater in a high traffic area where it can be easily tipped over or too close to combustible materials such as furniture, bedding and curtains."

Rutledge also added that small children should never be left alone in a room with a portable space heater and that the units should always be used on the floor and never in a wet or moist place like a bathroom.

"Moisture could cause a fire or shock hazard to the user," Rutledge said.

He also said to avoid using an extension cord to power the heater if you can. He said it also helps to plug the unit into a wall that is protected by a ground fault circuit. When deciding which heater to purchase, he advocated for heaters with a thermostat control and that could switch off automatically if they're knocked over. Units that also have a guard around the heating element can help in keeping small children, pets and clothing from coming into contact with the heat source, he said.

"Firefighters tend to see an increase in the number of structure fires reported during the cold weather months," Rutledge said. "Many of these fires are related to home heating sources, holiday decorations, cooking and other festive activities."

Anyone who'd like to donate heater, can drop one off at any of Gwinnett County's 29 fire stations until Feb. 15. For more information on Project AWARE, call Melanie Miller at 770-822-8842. She can also be reached by e-mail at melanie.miller@gwinnettcounty.com.

Friends of Gwinnett County Senior Services, a nonprofit partner of Gwinnett Senior Services, is also participating in this effort.