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Fuel assistance demand is on the rise

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said, “How can you expect a man who’s warm to understand one who’s cold?” We don’t have that problem in Vermont. There is not one of us who doesn’t understand the cold and the wonderful feeling of entering a warm space after being chilled. What if that space is your home and that space is continually cold and about to get colder? Then add to that scenario that you are elderly, disabled or a single mom with children.
He is 62 and receives some social security. He has a job but his hours were cut and his wife is out of work due to medical issues. They have an adult son living with them who has a learning disorder. They can’t pay their heating bill.
She is in her 50s and after years of enduring physical abuse, her husband shut the door and told her not to come back. She is working but after finding an apartment with the need for a security deposit and first month’s rent she “couldn’t catch up.”
These are two of the people who came to CVOEO’s Community Action Office looking for help with heating bills this month.
In October we can offer assistance through the WARMTH Program. This unique effort is essentially neighbors helping neighbors. Donation driven and with generous assistance from companies like Green Mountain Power, Vermont Gas and Burlington Electric the WARMTH Program was able to supply funds to help both of these families start to bridge the gap between what they have and what they need.
Vicki Fletcher is the fuel coordinator for CVOEO’s Crisis Fuel Program. She has worked for over 11 years with the WARMTH Program.
“I’ve seen an increase in the number of people needing help from groups of new Americans, working people and those who suffer from family members who have substance abuse problems,” she said.
On the first day of October Vicki interacted with 80 families requesting help from the WARMTH Program. On the second day of October, 90 additional families requested help.
 There is a maximum income threshold of 200 percent of the federal poverty level for people with a verified heating emergency to be eligible for the WARMTH Program. Disconnect notices or a low fuel supply and exhaustion of other resources define the emergency. Pay stubs, Social Security compensation and verification of other resources document income eligibility.
It is the community contribution of neighbor helping neighbor that undergirds WARMTH. Brochures explaining the service are distributed through energy bills from major utility and fuel companies. A check is made out to CVOEO for neighbors who can give. A trip to CVOEO’s Community Action Agency at 700 Exchange St. in Middlebury to determine eligibility and verify the level of emergency is the next step for those in need. It isn’t always possible for the elderly or disabled to make that trip. In that case arrangements are possible over the telephone.
Donations are sent to CVOEO, Box 1603, Burlington, VT 05402 and made out to the WARMTH Program.
Henry Melville said, “We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men.”
Jan Demers, executive director of the Champlain Office of Economic Opportunity, can be reached at 802-862-2771, ext. 740, or at [email protected].

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