2012-12-28 / Front Page

Town sees rise in fuel aid requests

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

Members of the Scarborough Town Council know that with colder weather and the dead of winter approaching, it will be a challenge for many town residents to keep their homes heated.

In response to the need, the town has once again teamed up with Project G.R.A.C.E. (Granting Resources and Assistance through Community Efforts), to providing fuel assistance.

The program was started last year to provide fuel assistance to families who might not qualify for aid through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), but still needed help heating their homes through the cold winter months.

“We know people have a real need in the community but won’t be able to be helped with general assistance or LIHEAP. That’s where Project G.R.A.C.E. comes in,” said Jim Elkins, a longtime volunteer with Project G.R.A.C.E, who chairs the granting resources committee.

“Inquiries, or requests for assistance has outpaced last year,” said Town Manager Tom Hall. “I think last year was a bad year and certainly the need has not gone away. If anything, it is greater.”

Steffi Cox, who started as executive director of Project G.R.A.C.E. last month, said there is an increase in requests for all of the organization’s services.

“We are seeing an increase in need for all of our services. The calls are coming in every day,” Cox said. “The voice mail is full when we come in in the morning. People are definitely reaching out to us for service. We are scrambling and trying to help as many people as we can.”

Last year Project G.R.A.C.E. provided $37,000 in funding to fill 92 fuel assistance requests during the course of the winter heating season, Elkins said. The amount was an all-time high for the organization, which has been helping those in need in Scarborough since 2002.

Project G.R.A.C.E administers the program, while the town supplies the publicity for the program and has set up an account for the funding.

“This year, so far, we have fulfilled 48 requests for fuel oil,” Elkins said, adding at this time last year 38 requests had come in.

Because of the transition in leadership at Project G.R.A.C.E, Cox said, the organization is behind in its fundraising and has not had a chance to send out its annual appeal.

Cox said she is optimistic the organization will get the funding needed to provide the services residents are requesting.

“I feel very optimistic because people in Scarborough are continually generous in helping those in need. They don’t want to see their neighbors hungry or cold or kids without food or clothing. When we put the word out about the need in the community, the response is always immediate and generous,” Cox said.

Elkins said the partnership between Project G.R.A.C.E. and the town gives the organization the support needed to fulfill the requests as they come in.

“It gives us a little more security knowing they will publicize the program so people will know we are here to help,” Elkins said.

Hall said the partnership has worked well for the town as well.

“The beauty in this is, Project G.R.A.C.E performs all the administrative aspects of it. Although we do get some inquiries, we direct them to Project G.R.A.C.E, which does all the intake and makes all the final decisions,” Hall said.

The idea to start a fuel assistance partnership between the town and Project G.R.A.C.E. was first brought up by Town Councilor Richard Sullivan in 2006.

Sullivan said he met with then-Town Manager Ron Owens and Town Councilor Ron Ahlquist about starting the program, given the fact that home heating oil at the time was approaching $4 a gallon. Of particular concern, Sullivan said, was the elderly in town who rely on the services of Project G.R.A.C.E.

“With the high prices (of heating oil) it was going to stretch Project G.R.A.C.E’s funding pretty hard,” Sullivan said.

The price of home heating oil dropped and, Sullivan said, “It looked like the need wasn’t there anymore,” until 2010, when Sullivan brought up the idea again to Ahlquist and Town Manager Tom Hall. It turns out Hall was also looking into starting a fuel assistance partnership.

“I told them, once we get this program rolling, I’d like to be the one to thank the donors in front of the camera and let the public know that these are the businesses and people that are giving to a worthy cause,” Sullivan.

The hope in doing so, he noted, was to inspire other people to give as well.

Since then the council has made it a point to publicly acknowledge each and every donation to the fuel assistance program. At the Town Council’s last meeting Wednesday, Dec. 8, the Scarborough High School Garden Club was recognized for its $460 donation, made up of proceeds from the club’s activities and individual member donations.

Hall said it is important to highlight such donations in public.

“That is important for two reasons,” Hall said. “One, to give some public recognition to people. Some people like that, but others would rather remain anonymous, but two, they qualify for tax deductions by the council formally accepting the donations.”

“The program started off strong this fall and we hope it will continue,” Ahlquist said. “You get around Christmas and it starts snowing and people begin to step up to the plate. I think the donations so far have been good and we expect a blitz right now.”

“People are very giving and generous with Project G.R.A.C.E. and the fuel assistance program,” he added.

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