An arctic start to 2014 has brought record-breaking temperatures and snowfall to eastern and central Pennsylvania. I know many of my neighbors, friends and family are dealing with sore backs, stretched budgets and general dislike of a certain furry rodent from western Pennsylvania.

Within PPL Electric Utilities' service territory, these extreme temperatures brought increased power usage that resulted in an all-time record for power demand by our customers.

January's demand was the highest-ever monthly total for PPL Electric Utilities, at 4.3 billion kilowatt-hours. January's demand was also nearly 8 percent above the average for January in the previous five years, 2009 through 2013.

Our system remained reliable because of diligent maintenance and continued investments in reliability.

However, an unfortunate side effect of this brutal winter season is the effect on our lower-income families, who may be struggling to deal with higher utility bills.

PPL Electric Utilities has a long history of helping customers in need and is committed to continuing that tradition. One of the ways it reaches out is through Operation HELP.

Established in 1983, the program provides emergency aid to pay heating bills for families with financial hardship. Through the generous support of PPL Corporation, employees and customers, the fund will provide $1.45 million in assistance this year.

PPL Electric Utilities recently announced it was pledging an additional $250,000 to Operation HELP and $50,000 to be shared among 11 food banks in its service territory.

We believe in giving back to the communities that we are privileged to serve. Our employees are proud to be your friends and neighbors and to volunteer to make our communities better places to live and work.

The need is great. The more we can raise for Operation HELP, the more families we can assist. If you'd like to make a one-time donation, or would like to have a specified amount added to your monthly bill for Operation HELP, go to www.pplelectric.com/operationhelp for more information. Non-PPL Electric Utilities customers also can help.

Neighbor helping neighbor. Together, we can make a difference.

(Teri MacBride is PPL Susquehanna regional affairs director.)