As temperatures start their annual frigid plunge in the Northeast, Midwest and Northwest states, we often hear newscasters longing for a trip to Arizona’s mild winters.

Unfortunately, in most cases, they don’t understand that even with mild temperatures during most winter days, Arizona endures a double whammy when it comes to the weather: summer’s gruelingly oppressive heat gives way this time of year to evening and nighttime thermometer drops into the 30s and 40s.

Sure, as the saying goes, it’s easier to shovel to sunshine than snow. But getting through those chilling hours after the sun goes down isn’t always as easy as simply turning up the heat, particularly for families and households already struggling with poverty.

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that more than one of five Arizonans live in poverty. For many of those Arizona families and individuals, a large number of whom work one or more low-paying jobs just to make ends meet, their biggest bill of the month is for utility costs.

We know the unfortunate truth is that the inability to pay utility bills could result in a shutoff of electricity, one of the leading causes of homelessness in America.

Having to choose between paying the utility bill and buying food for the kids is a decision no one should face. And, it’s what makes the Arizona Community Action Association’s (ACAA) Home Energy Assistance Fund so critical to meeting the needs of many men, women and children in Tucson and Southern Arizona.

The Home Energy Assistance Fund provides one-time emergency bill assistance to qualifying low-income utility customers. But it’s not always enough.

Even with federal funding from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, community action agencies were able to serve only one in 16 eligible households in 2012.

That’s why Tucson Electric Power Co. recently contributed $150,000 to the ACAA’s Home Energy Assistance Fund to assist up to 420 households struggling to pay their utility bills.

ACAA will distribute the funds as needed for emergency assistance to community action programs and other nonprofits in Southern Arizona, including Interfaith Community Services, Pima County Community Action Agency, Society of St. Vincent de Paul-Holy Family and Tucson Urban League.

Having access to these emergency funds will provide significant relief to struggling individuals and families.

The people of Tucson and Southern Arizona have long proved their understanding of just what it means to be a community and how we are so much stronger when we meet the challenges of our communities together.

One means to that goal is helping to ensure that those working so hard to achieve stability have one less speed bump to cross.

So the next time you head to your dresser to grab a sweater for extra comfort, maybe your next stop could be at the desk holding your checkbook for a contribution of any size to the Home Energy Assistance Fund to help another family keep warm, too. Simply go to to make a donation.

Cynthia Zwick is the executive director of the Arizona Community Action Association. For more information, go to