County group hopes to ease heat problem

By Jen Lynds, BDN Staff
Posted Nov. 21, 2008, at 8:38 p.m.

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — The board of directors at the United Way of Aroostook County is seeking to help out during what could be “a really dangerous winter” this year by instituting a new program, Keep The County Warm, to provide funding for 30,000 gallons of heating oil for Aroostook County families.

The program is looking to raise $105,000 to make available to organizations that offer emergency heating assistance in the region. Joining in the campaign effort are the Aroostook County Action Program, the Area Agency on Aging and Helping Hands of Aroostook.

The Presque Isle Rotary Club is providing major support for the effort by allowing the United Way substantial time during its annual auction in early December to solicit pledges, Mike Eisensmith, UWA community impact chairperson, said Friday.

He credited Claudia Stevens, executive director of the UWA, with coming up with the idea for the initiative.

“We are just at the beginning of raising money for this program, and we really think it will kick into gear during the Rotary auction on December 2, 3 and 4,” said Eisensmith. “This is a new program that Claudia Stevens thought up at the time when oil was $110 a barrel.”

Putting Stevens’ idea into action was a no-brainer, according to Eisensmith.

“This is something that we looked at and saw as a very logical thing to do given the price of fuel, the estimated duration of the winter, the lack of federal money for heating assistance programs, and the economy,” he said. “The board thought it was a great idea and that we should not wait until we heard of a shortfall to begin to act. We should start right now.”

Stevens pointed out that federal home heating assistance for lower-income households is expected to be depleted in the early months of 2009. Heating oil prices have fallen back in recent weeks but remain at very high levels, she added.

At the same time, the economy is making it harder for families to stretch their dollars further.

“When I looked at the cost of fuel oil, the federal funding levels for fuel assistance, and the shrinking capacity of family budgets to deal with rising costs, it was obvious that many people in Aroostook will have potentially life-threatening heating needs this winter,” Stevens said. “With this stark reality looming in the near future, the board of directors and I felt that the UWA needed to step forward and respond with the campaign.”

Eisensmith said the UWA would reach out to businesses, organizations and individuals to secure the necessary funding.

Steve Richard will be the community champion for the fundraising effort, helping with outreach to area organizations and businesses.

For more information, contact Mike Eisensmith at 551-5851 or Bonnie Foster, UWA president, at 521-0455.

http://bangordailynews.com/2008/11/21/news/county-group-hopes-to-ease-heat-problem/ printed on September 19, 2014