ELLSWORTH, Maine — The city has turned to a tried-and-true fundraising method to help warm the homes of needy residents this winter.
A monthlong silent auction is ongoing at City Hall, with myriad donated prizes including new shoes, brunch for two at the Lucerne Inn, a 15-inch digital picture frame, a new Samsung Acclaim smartphone and gift certificates to area stores and restaurants.
Ellsworth maintains a “Fuel Discretionary Fund” under the management of Deputy City Clerk Tina Howes. The fund is used to pay for one-time fuel deliveries worth up to $300 for residents who narrowly miss eligibility for General Assistance, Howes said.
“There are tons of programs for people who fall under different income guidelines,” Howes said recently. She counted among them General Assistance and the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP.
“There’s plenty of available resources out there for people who are income-qualified. But you have the middle class who are working or are receiving Social Security, and there isn’t anything out there for them,” she said.
The fund starts this heating season with about $10,000, Howes said, and the auction is just one way the city has sought to keep the fund solvent. One revenue stream that’s off the table, though, is taxpayer money.
For four years, the money has been raised by private donations and creative partnerships between the city and area businesses.
For example, Denny’s distributed about 100 discount cards to municipal employees that grant them a 15 percent discount off their dining bills every time they eat at the restaurant. Denny’s contributes the difference to the Fuel Discretionary Fund. The cards were set to expire this year, but the company opted to extend the discount for another year.
The city also holds “Dress-down Days” for city employees, who can pay $5 toward the fund for the privilege of going casual at work.
In its first week, silent auction bidders had already raised more than $1,000 for the fund. The auction ends Nov. 30.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.