Putting food on the table for Thanksgiving and paying your utilities bill shouldn't ever be something you have to choose between, but especially in recent months, many families were faced with exactly that this holiday season.
Myai Grimes is a single mother of six children and when the COVID-19 pandemic first cut her hours and then ultimately took her job, the choice between giving her children a Thanksgiving meal and paying to keep their lights on was one with which she was faced.
That was until a representative from TECO gave her a call and told her about the company's Share Program. Started in 1983, the program was founded as a non-profit to help provide financial assistance to gas and electric customers facing hardship that can't afford to pay their energy bill, according to Karen Sparkman, Vice President of Customer Experience for Tampa Electric and People's Gas. The program is administered by the Salvation Army to determine eligibility and a beneficiary can receive up to $450 in payment assistance a year.
"Especially this year, with COVID being on the forefront, it's been amazing to have the Share funds available and to have the support of partners in the community like the Tampa Bay Bucs to help us provide this funding to our customers," Sparkman said. "You guys have been a God-send."
Grimes said she had been at a loss for what to do when her electric bill started piling up when she got the call. Not only was TECO able to help her with her bill, but they were also able to get her in touch with other community partners to make sure her and her children had a full Thanksgiving meal on the table.
"I had reached out to other programs to see if anyone could help but everyone was out of funding," she explained. "No one could help me. When [the representative] said the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are willing to help you, I just started crying.
"I am so grateful. I've been telling people my story all week and that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers helped me out with my lights. I love the team even more."
And that's saying something. Grimes named her 13-year-old son Keyshawn, after former Buccaneers wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson. She has been a fan for years and was obsessed, as she says, with both Johnson and Hall of Famer Warren Sapp. Her and her two oldest sons watch every Buccaneers game to this day.
The Share Program received half of a $1 million donation by Tampa Electric and People's gas this year when the pandemic hit, according to Sparkman. The need has always been there but with the pandemic, it has grown exponentially. Partnerships like that with the Bucs, help the program reach more customers.
"The Bucs are highly visible pillars of our community and I think just mentioning Share and the Bucs in the same sentence provides that education to customers and to folks out there that may not know about the share program and it may drive them to give," said Sparkman. "That exposure has really helped us to put the Share name out there."
Donors can choose to give a one-time donation or sign up for an ongoing monthly contribution through a payroll deduction or by adding a donation amount to their monthly energy bill. TECO will match dollar for dollar contributions up to $500,000. Every dollar donated goes directly to helping a neighbor in need. No portion of the contribution is used for fundraising or administrative costs. Year to date, the Share Program has assisted 4,864 customers in the amount of $683,933.67.