DAMARISCOTTA, Maine — It’s amazing what dreams can materialize over a couple pints of beer.

It was 2005. Hurricane Katrina had just ravaged the southern United States and fuel prices were spiking past $2 a gallon — which at the time was an almost unheard-of price. King Eider’s Pub owner Todd Maurer and oil company owner Robert Clifford were having a beer and brainstorming how they could make a difference in their community. They came up with the Community Energy Fund, which since that day seven years ago has collected more than $500,000 in donations and distributed every last dollar to more than 1,500 needy families in Lincoln County.

“Some of the greatest ideas in history have come to people over a pint of beer,” said Maurer, who with his wife, Sarah, owns King Eider’s Pub on Main Street in Damariscotta. “Who knew the Community Energy Fund would become what it is today? In some ways we’ve created a monster, but it just keeps going.”

Last week, King Eider’s Pub was recognized with a Restaurant Neighbor Award by the National Restaurant Association, in large part because of Maurer’s involvement with the Community Energy Fund. Maurer said he has applied for the award before but not because he wants to add to his laurels. The award comes with a $5,000 prize, which he has donated to the fund.

“We won the award, but this isn’t just for King Eider’s Pub,” said Maurer. “This thing belongs to everyone in the community who believes in the cause.”

A key tenet of the program is that none of the money collected is used for administration or promotion — every penny goes directly to families for fuel oil, firewood or in some cases gasoline for people struggling to make it to medical appointments. Maurer said that’s possible because individuals and businesses in Lincoln County have rallied around the cause.

A local banker handles the books. A local print shop produces fliers. Local businesses donate all manner of goods and services to keep the program going and to support fundraising events. And when it comes to donations, Maurer said many of them seem to just materialize without much effort, ranging from Lincoln Academy students and Boy Scouts who have collected money to seasonal residents who send checks from afar, usually with a message that goes something like, “It’s a wonderful thing you’re doing; I hope this helps.”

Most of the fund’s recipients are referred by town managers or clergy in Lincoln County, sometimes after a family requests general assistance or funds from the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. In other cases, Maurer and the other organizers are approached on the street and told of a family’s hardships, such as medical emergencies or loss of a job.

A typical payment from the fund might cover 100 gallons of oil, a cord of wood or a gasoline card.

In most cases, recipients aren’t asked to fill out forms or disclose their income.

“This is a small community,” said Maurer. “If someone is having a hard time, people know what’s going on. This is all about Mainers helping Mainers.”

The National Restaurant Association and American Express developed the Restaurant Neighbor Award in 1999 to recognize establishments that go beyond just serving meals for their community and to inspire others to do the same. The other 2012 winners were ARAMARK in Philadelphia in the large business category, Taste Buds Management in New Orleans in the midsize category, and King Eider’s Pub in the small-business category.

The National Restaurant Association represents 970,000 restaurant and food service outlets and a work force of nearly 13 million employees.

“The recipients of this year’s Restaurant Neighbor Award embody our mission to enhance the quality of life for all we serve,” said National Restaurant Association president and CEO Dawn Sweeney, in a press release. “We are proud to recognize the incredible efforts of this year’s winners, whose generosity and commitment to bettering their communities has touched the lives of countless individuals.”

Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.