Center renews goal of curing killer heat in K.C.
By Kevin Kelly
June 16, 2002
KANSAS CITY - Although a brief shower had just passed through the
neighborhood June 3, the air was stifling inside Rosie's house on
Rosie, an elderly woman who cares for her grandchildren during
the day, had to stop and catch her breath from the exertion of merely
answering her front door.
|Seminarian Shawn Ratigan delivers
an air conditioner to an elderly woman through Project ElderCool,
a Bishop Sullivan Center program. Kevin Kelly/Key photo
But the sight of seminarian Shawn Ratigan carrying a brand-new
air conditioner brightened her eyes.
"Oh, praise the Lord," she said.
Rosie, who asked that The Catholic Key not use her last name, will
finally get some relief from the summer heat, thanks to Project
ElderCool, now in its third full year.
The program was launched by the Bishop Sullivan Center after executive
director Tom Turner learned that summer heat in 1999 claimed 21
lives, most of them poor elderly citizens.
Turner marshalled what resources he could find late that year and
began buying and giving away small window-mounted air conditioners
for Bishop Sullivan Center clients who were at the most danger from
the late summer heat wave.
Over next several months, the Bishop Sullivan Center sought corporate
and private donations and spread the program citywide through a
network of social service agencies by the time the summer of 2000
began. By the end of the summer, the program gave away 432 units,
plus it deposited $50 in the utility accounts of each person receiving
an air conditioner so that they would have the money to run it.
Despite a record-breaking late summer heat wave that year, only
11 heat-related deaths were recorded in Kansas City.
Last year, armed with $77,000 in private donations and another
$20,000 from Bishop Sullivan Center's operating funds, Project ElderCool
was able to install air conditioners in another 532 homes, a 23
percent increase over 2000. Once again, only 11 heat-related deaths
were recorded in the Kansas City metro area.
Sometime this month, said Bishop Sullivan Center Special Projects
Manager Colleen Raveill, Project ElderCool will install its 1,000th
air conditioner. But the program won't be considered a success until
no heat-related deaths are recorded, Raveill said.
Raveill said she fully expects the number of air conditioners this
year to at least match last year's increase.
"If it increased 23 percent last year, it's going to go up
from there," she said.
Raveill also has faith that the generosity of the Kansas City community
will keep donations in pace.
"It's like loaves and fishes," she said. "Donations
kept showing up whenever we needed it."
Raveill said some people have offered used air conditioners, but
the program will only purchase and install new units for two reasons.
"The new units are more energy efficient, plus they are under
warranty," she said.
In addition to the free air conditioner program, the Bishop Sullivan
Center has joined in a partnership with KSHB-TV (Channel 41) in
an awareness program that will stress common sense steps to take
during a heat wave.
"Things like stay indoors or go somewhere that is air-conditioned
like a public library, drink plenty of fluids," she said. "But
people, particularly older people, are afraid to open their windows
or afraid to turn on their air conditioners because they don't have
the money to pay for it."
Raviell said the success of the program depends on small donations
from the public, but hasn't had difficulty in the past with getting
"Everyone can relate to heat," she said. "Even if
you spend your day working in an ice factory, you have to get into
a hot car to go home, and you know how that feels."
The beauty of Project ElderCool, she said, is that it has "a
beginning, a middle and an end."
"You plug it in, turn it on, and you feel relief immediately,"
To be eligible for an air conditioner, a client must be low-income
and living in a home that has no working air conditioner in any
room. Although Project ElderCool volunteers will install a unit
in a home, insurance and safety regulations prohibit the volunteers
from removing an older, broken unit from any window.
Those seeking an air conditioner may call Raveill at the Bishop
Sullivan Center at (816) 231-0984.
Those wishing to contribute to the program may send checks payable
to Bishop Sullivan Center with the notation "Project ElderCool"
and mail them to the center at 6435 Truman Road, Kansas City, Mo.