Donna Lewandowski had an experience Saturday that warmed her heart — and the rest of her, too.

The Pekin resident was one of three central Illinoisans to have a new furnace installed free of charge by Fritch Heating & Cooling, part of a nationwide effort by Lennox called Feel the Love.

“It’s amazing,” Lewandowski said as she watched Fritch employees go in and out of her home on 14th Street from the front lawn. “You don’t know how cold it gets in the winter.”

She’s been without reliable heat for the past two years, using the oven to keep part of the home warm. But last year it got so cold that Lewandowski had ice in portions of her house.

A friend nominated her for the program, and Lewandowski said she’s been in disbelief ever since finding out she was chosen.

“It’s amazing,” she said. “I just have no words. I just feel like I’m still sleeping — it’s not happening, but it is.”

She came to town 14 years ago to care for her ailing mother, fell in love with the community and decided to stay after her mom passed away. 

Since then, Lewandowski has brought in shelter pets, helped out at local events like Relay for Life, taken in homeless people to try to help them get back onto their feet, and currently cares for a family member grappling with dementia.

That kind of profile is precisely what the company is looking for in recipients.

“They’re looking for somebody who helps in the community, has a big heart. Even though they might be having some financial trouble, they’re still out there and giving,” said Angela Fritch-Milton, the co-owner of Peoria-based Fritch Heating & Cooling, the local Lennox dealer.

She brought her two daughters, ages 5 and 8, to see the work firsthand and experience the importance of giving back. 

Fritch did three furnace replacements on Saturday as part of the program — the one in Pekin and two in Peoria — and none of the homes had functioning heat.

Across 26 states and provinces, 160 Lennox dealers performed 176 such installations on Saturday, said Steve Pitlik, director of heating products for Lennox International. Recipients are those in need who are military veterans or who have financial or medical challenges, he said.

Lennox donates the equipment, and employees at local dealers volunteer their time for the installations. Nominations are accepted year-round at feelthelove.com.

With forecasts for later in the week promising nighttime temperatures in the mid-30s, Lewandowski said she’s ready to “hit the heat.”

“It’s going to be new to me,” she said, smiling.