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News Feature

The Island
Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, January 16, 2014
Cold winter draining heating assistance funds

by Jessica Brophy

At this time last year, the Island Heating Assistance Program had provided fuel to 45 households. This year, the number is at 71, said Deer Isle Sunset Congregational Church Pastor Amy Vaughn, administrator of the island-wide fund.

An extended cold snap in the latter half of December and the first week of January, as well as snowy and icy precipitation, has done a number on area heating funds.

The fund offers emergency heating assistance, and money is paid directly to fuel dealers upon delivery.

Last year, the fund served 115 people, according to an appeal letter sent out for donations to the fund. “Many of those we had assisted had never called for help before,” said the letter.

Deer Isle and Stonington have some general assistance funds available, and Stonington also has the remnants of a heating fund established through donations when heating oil prices spiked in 2008. Though the fund still receives some donations, Town Manager Kathleen Billings-Pezaris said the fund is smaller than it was. Those in need are eligible for one delivery of 100 gallons of #2 heating oil per year.

Washington Hancock Community Agency’s emergency heating fund, The Heating and Warmth fund, has been completely drained, according to WHCA Family Assistance Advocate Susan Farley. More than $80,000 has been given out since October, with $60,000 given the first week of January.

“In December we didn’t have a break. It was a one-two punch,” said Farley, referring to the cold and snow. “The calls just keep increasing. Even those people who very carefully budget are going through more fuel than they expect.”

Farley said having to turn people away who are in need is difficult. “We’re doing everything we can,” said Farley. “It’s really hard to tell someone, ‘we can’t help you.’”

She said she talked with one Washington County woman, who worked full time, whose pipes froze during the ice storm. “She and her daughter had to leave their trailer and may not be able to return,” said Farley. “You never know when the phone rings what it’s going to be.”

The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, also administered by WHCA, still has funds. The processing time for the program can take up to six weeks, and there are strict federal guidelines in terms of income. To sign up for an appointment, contact WHCA at 664-2424.

To apply for IHAP, call 348-6602 and talk with Vaughn. IHAP provides emergency assistance, and an applicant should be at or below one quarter of a tank before requesting assistance. Deliveries are not made on the weekend.

To make donations to IHAP, mail a check to P.O. Box 383, Stonington, Maine 04681. Contributions are tax deductible, and 100 percent of the funds go directly to pay for heating assistance, as Bar Harbor Bank & Trust and Deer Isle Sunset Congregational Church cover all of the overhead and administrative expenses.

A “good music for a good cause” benefit to help replenish WHCA’s THAW fund will be held on Friday, January 24, at The Grand in Ellsworth. The Knights of Columbus are sponsoring the event, called To Warm a Winter’s Night III. There will be four bands as well as an auction. A wine and beer bar will be available and Bianco Catering will be catering hors d’oeuvres. Bands include Mac Lir, Bobbi Lane, the Crown Vics and the Trish Mason Band.