Heat the Streets race to help those in need of assistance with utility bills

The annual Heat the Streets walk and run is back this year to highlight the struggle some people experience with keeping the lights on and their homes warm.

The annual event, which raises funds to aid those who need help with utility bills, is Saturday. The fundraiser benefits energy assistance programs offered by Omaha Public Power District and Metropolitan Utilities District.

The event, in its 13th year, includes a 5K and a 1-mile walk. It’s back in Aksarben Village, near 67th and Center Streets, for a second year.

“Our community really does care about the people who live here,” said Britton Gabel, who works with OPPD’s energy assistance program. “The purpose of this is to really raise awareness about those in need in Omaha and surrounding areas who are experiencing financial setbacks.”

Last year’s event brought in $81,000, Gabel said. OPPD’s energy assistance program, with a total of $250,000, helped more than 900 households.

Runners and walkers will head north on the Keystone Trail, starting and finishing in Aksarben Village. Runners will start at 9 a.m., followed by walkers.

Some restaurants in Aksarben Village’s Inner Rail food hall — including B Squared Burger, Sofra Creperie and Briggs Bean — will be open for participants to purchase food or drinks before the race begins. Participants are invited back to the food hall after the race to purchase featured menu items.

Organizers expect about 800 participants. Attendance can vary depending on the weather, but when it’s chilly and wintry, it tends to drive home the point of the race, organizers said.

“The folks that are in need can’t choose what time of year a hospital bill or unexpected car payment happens,” OPPD spokeswoman Jodi Baker said. “They can’t choose a mild month to be without utilities.”

Organizers hope to bring in $100,000 this year. Money raised comes from race registrations, corporate sponsorships and donations. It goes into the Common Fund of the Heartland and is distributed through 11 local agencies.

Online registration is open through Wednesday. The cost is $25 to $35 in advance, or $35 to $45 on race day. Children 12 and under are free with a paid adult.