News Feature

Blue Hill
Originally published in The Weekly Packet, January 16, 2014
Keeping warm this winter
Requests for fuel assistance heat up across Peninsula

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 many town and county organizations who distribute such funds.

“The demand’s been huge,” said the Rev. Rob McCall, who administers the Dolly Fisher Fund through the First Congregational Church of Blue Hill to Peninsula residents in need.

Requests for fuel oil, kerosene, propane, firewood and wood pellets are coming in daily, McCall said, and averaging from 15 to 20 per week. “From Christmas until now it’s been the most I’ve seen since 2008, when we set the fund up.”

That said, the fund is “holding up pretty well,” McCall said—for now. “At this rate, we’re not going to be able to make it through the winter.”

The Dolly Fisher Fund is fueled by donations and, for the first time this year, grant money. “We get donations from all over the Peninsula,” McCall said. Donations to the fund can be mailed to the First Congregational Church of Blue Hill, with “Dolly Fisher Fund” noted on the memo line.

In Brooklin, the First Baptist Church has also seen a rise in requests, said Pastor Peter Sprague. The church gives help through its Deacon’s Fund, grown out of donations and from events like the annual talent show, held in collaboration with the community.

“This year it’s going out faster,” he said. “I think it’s more the serious cold snap. I just got done talking with a lady this afternoon struggling with the heating costs…It’s straining people’s budgets.”

Sprague said the fund has dispersed $4,600 so far this winter “and we probably have a little over $2,000 left.”

The Brooklin town office, which disperses assistance through donations to Brooklin Friends for a Warmer Town, has also had more people ask for heating help this winter.

“We’ve had more requests and we’ve paid out more money than in the last couple years,” said Chairman of Selectmen Albie Smith.

“The interesting thing is that we continue, through the generosity of some of the townspeople—and not all [year-round] residents—to get significant contributions. We just got one today for $1,000 from someone who lives here part-time.”

For residents with wood stoves, the town provides firewood, chopped and delivered by the Brooklin Odd Fellows. This year, the wood comes from town-owned property, namely the old dump, Smith said.

“We have a core group of 10 to 11 guys who spend a couple hours on Sunday chopping wood,” said Odd Fellow Larry Staples.

Not all town offices and churches have seen more people asking for help, although not all towns or churches responded to Penobscot Bay Press by press time.

“There’s been requests, but not more [than usual] for this this time of year,” said Surry Town Clerk Angela Smith. The town disperses help from donation-fed discretionary fuel assistance fund. “There’s money left,” she said.

And at the Blue Hill First Baptist Church, Pastor Sheila Heneise said requests were actually down. “We haven’t really had the calls we’ve had in the past.” The Blue Hill town office reported no requests at all so far.

County-wide, the Washington-Hancock County Agency offers fuel assistance through THAW (The Heating and Warmth Fund), but it is nearly dry.

This emergency fund, also fueled by donations, 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,” said Susan Farley, family assistance advocate at WHCA, in a recent phone call. “We’re doing everything we can. It’s really hard to tell someone, ‘we can’t help you.’”

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.