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This local nonprofit helps seniors keep their cool when the summer temperatures get dangerously hot

This local nonprofit helps seniors keep their cool when the summer temperatures get dangerously hot
July 2021

Learn more about Project Cool Breeze

Project Cool Breeze distributes air conditioners and fans at the Lowe’s Home Improvement in West Ashley.

Summer in Charleston brings energy-sapping heat and wet-blanket humidity. More than uncomfortable, with no air conditioning, houses can become dangerous ovens, especially for the elderly and vulnerable.

State Rep. Wendell Gilliard, who serves Charleston County, remembers that blistering heat from his youth growing up in public housing. “There were nine of us; we would be playing, and my mom would call us into the house and then send us upstairs to take a nap,” he recalls. “The only cooling was Dad used to get a big block of ice to put in the window and put a fan opposite to blow into the room.”

The childhood experience stayed with Gilliard, and in 1999, became the genesis for Project Cool Breeze, a nonprofit that provides air conditioners or fans to seniors to help them weather Charleston summers. The program, which has been cooling seniors for 22 years, distributes an average of 300 to 400 fans and 500 to 600 air conditioners a year. During COVID, the criteria has relied solely on the need for air conditioning due to health concerns rather than financial qualifications, event coordinator and board chair Michelle Harris explained.

With sponsors including Dominion Energy, Lowe’s Home Improvement, Boeing, Goodwill, Nucor, and Volvo, the nonprofit distributes its “cool breezes” at the Lowe’s in West Ashley with two dates scheduled in July. “If someone is elderly and disabled, oftentimes Rep. Gilliard, along with volunteers, personally delivers and installs the unit,” Harris says. “The love and respect Rep. Gilliard has for seniors is unconditional.”

In past years, the project has expanded beyond the summer months to include a turkey giveaway at Thanksgiving, a coat and food drive in January, meals and haircuts for veterans, voter registration drives, and free health screenings as well as a ceremony honoring community leaders. Volunteers, many from sponsoring companies, often return for multiple events because they find the work so rewarding. “I began volunteering in 2016 with the turkey giveaway and never quit,” says Harris. “Project Cool Breeze has a number of dedicated volunteers, and once you’re a part of the team, there’s no turning back. We are family.”

Recently, the nonprofit has extended its geographic reach serving surrounding rural areas. “It’s a household name,” Harris says. “You can tell when someone genuinely cares. When they hear the name Project Cool Breeze, they know there is love involved.”