2018-02-02 / Front Page

Frigid air temps precede fuel rally

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

With the frigid temperatures that marked the start of 2018 and many weeks of cold weather ahead, Project G.R.A.C.E. Executive Director Steffi Cox knows the organization’s heating fuel assistance program is as important as ever.

Cox said the organization typically sees an uptick in fuel assistance requests when the temperature gets as cold as it has for an extended period of time.

“The need is ever present because most of the families we are helping are right on the edge and every dollar they spend is carefully allotted,” Cox said.

To help meet that need, Project G.R.A.C.E. (Granting Resources and Assistance through Community Efforts) is teaming up with town officials and community groups to hold the Keep Our Neighbors Warm Fuel Rally. The event, which takes place at the Oak Hill Fire Station from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Feb. 10, serves as the program’s largest fundraiser and over the last five years has brought in more around $80,000. This year’s fundraising goal is $15,000. If the rally can raise $12,500, Scarborough resident Eddie Woodin will donate an additional $2,500.

Cox said the rally is a critical way to raise the funding needed to help families heat their homes during the cold Maine winter.

“It is because of the rally and the other fuel donations that come in that we are able to pick up that phone and say yes (to a fuel assistance request),” Cox said.

The station will be open for people to drop off donations, either in person or by driving through one of the vehicle bays. The rally will also include a number of activities. Scarborough Public Library will offer tips about preparing emergency preparedness kits and storytelling for kids. Boy Scout Troop 47 will hold a bottle drive and the Rotary Club of Scarborough will provide a craft table for children to make valentines. The Scarborough Lions Club will staff a bake sale, something that had been done by the Pine Point Ladies Auxilary, a group that recently disbanded after 40 years. EnergyWise LLC will offer information about weatherizing homes and other groups, including Buy Local, Friends of Scarborough Marsh, Scarborough Kiwanis and Scarborough Marsh Center will also be on hand.

Scarborough Fire Chief B. Michael Thurlow said the fire department is happy to take part in the event to offer Project G.R.A.C.E. support “for all the good things they do in our community.”

“When the town council first started promoting and collecting donations for heating assistance a few years ago when oil prices were real high, it seemed like a natural addition to that effort where the public safety departments could help play a role,” Thurlow wrote in an email to the Leader. “We came up with the drive-thru bay for those who wanted to donate without even getting out of their car like going to the drive-in window at a bank. For those who prefer to come and visit, we offer a variety of activities to keep the public interested and engaged including a demonstration of our life-size EMS simulator, fire safety activities and materials for our youth, the fire explorers will be there to assist and talk about their program, and a variety of other things from the (police department) and library on personal preparedness.”

The rally was started in 2013 as a way to replenish the fuel assistance fund after the winter of 2012, in which Project G.R.A.C.E. spent more than $45,000 to help 77 families with 110 deliveries.

“That’s what started the rally. With the rally, we are able to raise enough money for the fuel season,” Cox said.

The number of requests Project G.R.A.C.E. has fielded so far is 30 percent higher than this time last year.

“We usually expect to have 50 to 60 deliveries each year. We are already at 34 and we still have a long way to go because we send the trucks right out until spring is here,” Cox said Jan. 29.

Project G.R.A.C.E, Cox said, has been “very fortunate” this winter that Conroy Oil have been able to quickly make deliveries for fuel assistance program beneficiaries, especially with high demand for fuel this winter.

Cox said she fears, especially with how cold it has been this winter, that people may not be asking for help because they feel there are others that need assistance more, or because they are too proud to ask.

“If you are cold, come forward. If we can help, we will,” Cox said.

For the last few years, per a tradition former council chairman Richard Sullivan started, individuals who make public donations to fuel assistance are thanked at a town council meetings, most recently Jan. 17.

Councilor Jean-Marie Caterina said the fuel assistance program is a “critical program in town,” especially this winter as people have had trouble getting oil or propane deliveries with fuel companies being inundated with calls because of the cold weather.

“Anything we can do for Project G.R.A.C.E. and through the (relationship) we got with them through the town, is most helpful,” Caterina said.

“With supply and demand, prices are extremely high right now and every little contribution helps for sure,” vice chairman Chris Caiazzo said just prior to the council officially accepting a fuel assistance donation from the Ertman family.

According to the bulletins from the Maine Energy Office, the price for heating oil has increased from $2.23 per gallon in early October to $2.51 per gallon by mid-December to $2.73 per gallon by the beginning of 2018. Most recently (Jan. 19) the cost was $2.94 per gallon. Kerosene rose from $2.87 per gallon to $3.54 per gallon from early October to Jan. 19, during which time propane rose from $2.61 per gallon to $2.81 per gallon.

Over the last five years, the price per gallon of heating fuel has ranged from $1.71 in April 2016 to $3.89 per gallon in February 2014. This time last year the cost per gallon of heating fuel was $2.28. In early February 2016 it stood at $1.72 per gallon. In 2015, the early February price was $2.54 per gallon and in 2014, the early February price was $3.89 per gallon.

Cox said there are many groups in town that regularly put on events to benefit the fuel assistance program, including fundraisers put on by the Hillcrest Retirement Community, Higgins Beach Association and various neighborhood groups.

“We are very lucky we have some compassionate folks, really all around town, helping us,” she said.

Such donations not only help with the fuel assistance program, but Project G.R.A.C.E.’s weatherization initiative as well.

For the last several years, Project G.R.A.C.E. has been helping homeowners pay for an Efficiency Maine energy assessment, which finds ways to make the home more energy efficient and retain heat better. Cox said in many cases, it saves the homeowner “just enough on their fuel bills that they are more self-sufficient” and have a smaller energy consumption footprint.

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at news@scarboroughleader.com.

Return to top