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Penobscot Bay Press
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News Feature

Castine & Penobscot
Originally published in Castine Patriot, January 16, 2014
Requests for heat assistance came early, on the rise in Castine
No requests made to Penobscot funds

by Anne Berleant and Jessica Brophy

Frigid temperatures and the December ice storm have caused a rise in local requests for fuel assistance, according to town and county organizations who distribute such funds.

“The problem exists in that the [federal heating assistance program] LIHEAP has [nearly] dried out,” said Jimmy Goodson, who administers a fuel assistance fund created by the four Castine churches. “People don’t usually call us until the LIHEAP fund dwindles.”

Requests are already over the total number from last year and started early, he said, but there is still money currently in the fund.

The fuel fund began in 2008 as a church outreach program, with requests made to the individual churches. Donations keep the fund alive and may be made through the Unitarian Universalist, Catholic, Trinitarian or Trinity churches.

“Because we know there’s so many people where the need is there, we typically will do only one delivery per heating season,” Goodson said.

Penobscot residents, however, have not asked for assistance thus far through the town’s General Assistance Program, according to Chairman of the Board of Selectmen Paul Bowen, or from the Penobscot Methodist Church heating fund.

“Usually it’s from now through the end of the season that [requests] start,” said Tricia Robertson, who helps administer the church fund.

The church’s heat assistance fund is fueled by the Coffee House Music Buffet, a monthly event that has raised over $4,300 through donations for the fund since it started four years ago. One-third of total donations are given to the Tree of Life food pantry in Blue Hill.

Castine’s General Assistance Program has gotten two requests for help, said Town Manager Dale Abernethy, who administers the program.

“We normally get a handful, five or less, just about every winter. It just seems a little earlier this year,” Abernethy said.

He refers people to the church-run fuel fund because of the “narrow guidelines” of the General Assistance Program.

“A lot of these folks, while they may need assistance, they don’t truly qualify,” he said.

County-wide, the Washington Hancock Community Agency, which administers the LIHEAP program locally, also offers fuel assistance through a private donation-driven program called THAW (The Heating and Warmth fund), but those funds are nearly dry. THAW funds, however, are reliant on donations, which, unlike LIHEAP funds, can be replenished throughout the season.

This emergency fund has filled $60,000 in requests in January alone, and a total of $80,000 since October.

“We’re now just about out of money completely,” Susan Farley, family assistance advocate at WHCA, said in a recent phone call. “We’re doing everything we can. It’s really hard to tell someone ‘we can’t help you.’”

To donate to the THAW fund visit whcacap.org/donate-volunteer/index.php or call WHCA at 664-2424.