EASTPORT, Maine — Registration is under way for this Down East community’s annual exercise in frosty philanthropy.
Eastport’s “Hearts Warming Hearts” event will find participants running, walking or strutting down Water Street on Valentine’s Day, Tuesday, Feb. 14, wearing almost nothing while raising funds to help area residents who need help meeting the hefty costs of heating their homes.
Recommended attire, despite the temperature, includes Speedo bathing suits for men and bikinis for women, although any style of swimwear is permitted. Participants solicit pledges, ranging from a few dollars to as much as $600 per participant in past years. After making the quick dash over the four city blocks between the post office and the finish line at the Happy Crab Restaurant, those involved are treated to free pizza and hot chocolate.
“It is up to us to look out for our neighbors,” said Happy Crab owner Jeff Starling, an organizer of the event and a survivor of the run several times with his wife, Lesley, and their son and daughter-in-law. “Participating in Hearts Warming Hearts is a way to give local and to have fun in the process providing a hand up to a deadly serious problem.”
Starling said every cent raised by the event is used to provide fuel assistance for the elderly poor. “Over the years this event has provided additional funding to our often almost depleted home heating assistance funds in Down East Maine,” he said. “I can’t think of a better way to say ‘I love you’ on Valentine’s Day than by helping our neighbors to stay warm.”
Event promoter John Miller said recent cuts in federal subsidies for home heating assistance make this year’s event more crucial than ever.
“Squeezed by rising living costs, a record number of Americans — nearly half — have fallen into poverty or are scraping by on earnings that classify them as low-income”, Miller says. “The reality is that prospects for the poor and the near-poor are dismal. If Congress and the states make further cuts, we can expect the number of poor and low-income families to rise for the next several years. It is really important that we make the effort to look out for our neighbors, especially given the reality that President Obama has cut Maine’s allotment for Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program by millions of dollars, which means that our truly needy and most vulnerable citizens will be very cold.”
That grim forecast is supported by Maine State Housing Director Dale McCormick, who said the average beneficiary of LIHEAP has an annual income of $16,500 and that 54 percent of program participants are elderly or disabled. “People will freeze in their homes at this level,” McCormick said. “They will have to choose between food, medicine, fuel and rent.”
This year’s event will be the fourth such fundraiser. Between what Miller describes as a baker’s dozen of runners and walkers and those who pledge and turn out to watch, about 100 people are usually involved, he said. Collectively, they raise $4,000-$5,000 in heating assistance funds. The money raised is funneled into the city’s general assistance fund and allocated locally to low-income, elderly recipients. Those interested in applying for heating assistance grants should contact city hall.
Rules and pledge sheets are available at the Happy Crab restaurant, 35 Water St., Eastport. To receive them by mail, call 853-9400.