Sheriff Charles Blackwood and dozens of residents have challenged their neighbors to share a cool breeze this summer.
The Box Fan Challenge asks community members to buy new box fans and drop them off at the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. Home Depot is a corporate sponsor, selling Lasko 20-inch box fans for $17 each for the challenge.
Law enforcement, fire and emergency agencies, along with nonprofit partners, including Orange Congregations in Mission, are helping to distribute the donated fans, Blackwood said. Individual donors have issued their own Facebook video challenges to friends, family and others.
“It’s just proven to be something that everybody wants to get involved with,” Blackwood said, “and, of course, just like the Ice Bucket Challenge and the #22Kill (Pushup) Challenge ... people kind of like to stir their buddies to make them want to give.”
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He got the idea from a cousin who told him how the Darlington, S.C., police chief had started a similar program in his town, Blackwood said. Orange County residents and groups have donated over 200 fans so far.
David Caldwell, the county’s community center coordinator, estimated the Rogers Road, Cedar Grove and Efland-Cheeks community centers are funneling about 70 fans to those who need them. Many are being distributed to residents age 80 and older, he said.
The Box Fan Challenge runs through Friday, July 29, but the Sheriff’s Office will continue accepting donations. Any extra fans will be taken to the community centers and also could be donated to local schools, he said.
The challenge shows the need is greater than they suspected, Blackwood said.
We realize “this county is not one that is in despair like some are who’ve lost a lot of industry, but we still have pockets in this community of folks who are way below that poverty level and in need,” he noted. “The other side of that is there are folks who have newborns, and grandparents are taking care of newborns for parents who have to work, that may not have adequate means of circulating enough cool air.”
Daytime highs have hovered around 90 degrees this month. The county hasn’t seen any alarming heat-related problems, emergency management coordinator Kirby Saunders said, but it is asking folks to be mindful of the “feels like” temperature.
“Even in the shade, you can get that ‘feels like’ temperature,” he said. “If you stand in the sun, it can feel like 105 and the direct sunlight can add another 10 degrees. On high-humidity, high-heat days avoid the sun if possible.”
Air-conditioned community centers, libraries and other public buildings are good places to seek relief in the daytime, he said. The county could step in and provide short- or long-term shelter if a sustained draw on the electrical grid causes power outages, he said.
At home, Saunders advised placing a fan so it blows out a door or window, especially at night, to ventilate and cool the room. Keeping curtains or blinds closed and the lights off as much as possible also will help, he said.
How to help
Leave donations for the Box Fan Challenge at the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, 106 E. Margaret Lane in Hillsborough. If you know someone in need, contact the Sheriff's Office at 919-245-2900.