ROCKLAND, Maine — It has been a cold winter, heating oil is expensive, and some people are scraping to get by. Brenda Harrington, the general assistance director for the city, knows that.
Harrington oversees Rockland’s Home Heating Assistance Program, which offers support to people who can’t find it elsewhere.
The city program has helped 17 residents this season, totaling $3,700 in benefits in the past four months. Last year the program provided $3,400 over a seven-month period to help 20 people.
Although the demand for help is slightly higher than at this time last year, the starkest difference is the money coming into the city’s fund.
The city program runs on donations only. In its first two years, 2008 and 2009, the program raked in thousands of dollars in donations.
“This year I received $250 — from an employee, actually — and $500 from Down East Energy. That’s it,” Harrington said Thursday. “I’m going to retire in June, and I’m afraid this is going to be gone. I’m worried about this year if demand keeps going up.”
The fund still has $11,000 left over from the first few boom years of fundraising, but if the demand keeps rising and the donations don’t match, the program will end, she said.
People who apply for the city’s program first must apply for general assistance, which provides a combination of state and local money to help qualified applicants pay for rent and other necessities they otherwise can’t afford. If they are approved for general assistance money, they do not receive additional funds from Rockland’s Home Heating Assistance Program. If they do not get general assistance, but cannot afford heat, Harrington will set the person up with 100 gallons of oil. Many of the people she helps also get LIHEAP benefits, but that funding is not meant to supply people with a full season’s worth of oil, according to Melanie Hurlburt.
So Harrington helps fill the gap with the donated funds. When people need help, she makes appointments, serves walk-ins and even fielded a call from home on Christmas Eve this year.
“We don’t want to see anyone cold. Definitely not,” she said.
For information about Rockland’s Home Heating Assistance Program, call the city at 594-0300.