Around East Texas, it would be easy to speculate that the “Dog Days of Summer” is a reference to how dogs survive the August heat. One of the more interesting funds held at East Texas Communities Foundation is a fund for the benefit of the John Wingate Truitt Log Cabin Association. The Truitt family were early immigrants to Texas and they built a cabin north of Lone Star in Morris County. The family has painstakingly restored the dog trot cabin, which includes full-length covered porches and an open breezeway or “dog trot” between the two main rooms. It is easy to imagine the Truitt family dog on the porch in the shade, or better yet, in the cool dirt beneath the porch, escaping the Texas summer heat. That is my picture of how the expression “dog days of summer” originated, but of course, I’m wrong.

Farmers;’ Almanac to the rescue. According to the Farmers’ Almanac, in a July article titled “What Are The Dog Days Of Summer?” the phrase is an astrological reference to the alignment of the constellation Canis Major with the sun during the period beginning July 3 and ending August 11. Canis Major is known as the Greater Dog, and the most prominent star of the constellation is Sirius, the Dog Star. Romans speculated that the alignment of the constellation added to the heat of the sun, making the period especially hot. In fact, it is really just extraordinarily hot because the sun is shining more directly on the northern hemisphere and for longer hours of the day during the dog days of summer.

So, if you’ve managed to beat the heat long enough to read this column, let me offer a few suggestions about how the dog days of summer can remind you of charitable opportunities in our community. First, shelter is as important in one hundred-degree heat as it is when the temperature drops below freezing. Don’t forget organizations like the Red Cross, Salvation Army, and HiWay 80 Rescue Mission which provides shelter and cooling centers when the temperatures reach dangerous levels. Other organizations such as PATH and Habitat for Humanity provide support for those seeking shelter from the heat. PATH provides electric fans and important utility assistance. Habitat for Humanity provides energy-efficient homes and renovations to existing homes to make them more habitable in weather extremes.

Second, high heat leads to extraordinary financial distress for many families. High utility bills and AC repair or replacement bills, can throw otherwise stable households into financial distress. The heat can even affect a family’s transportation by stressing an engine and causing a breakdown in an otherwise reliable vehicle. Shocks like vehicle repairs can be absorbed by some people, while others are thrown out of their delicate financial balance. Financial distress leads many families to lean more heavily on other safety net resources including local food pantries and medical clinics. The East Texas Food Bank and their network of over 200 local food pantries are staying busy supporting families who are facing heat-related financial stress in addition to the effects of the rising cost of gas and everything else. Bethesda Clinic not only helps their fragile patients avoid heat-related illnesses, they help our neighbors by providing medical care when their financial resources are limited or diverted to other critical needs.

Third, high heat combined with drought can cause wildfires that displace families and test the limits of our first responders and their equipment. The Red Cross is always ready to respond and support families affected by fires, while local volunteer fire departments work with government firefighting agencies to respond quickly to their neighbors in need. If your local volunteer fire department is hosting a fish fry or similar fundraiser, make a point to attend this year or at least offer your financial support so they can be ready when you need them. At least a few times this summer I have awakened to hear the air conditioner running in the middle of the night. Sometimes it seems like the Texas heat won’t ever let the AC cycle off. For some people, high electric bills are inconvenient, but for others, their fear of not being able to afford a high electric bill causes them to keep the air conditioning off, even when it is dangerous for their health. Considering a gift to one of the local charities supporting our neighbors in the dog days of summer may be your next best opportunity to Give Well.