‘America has a heartbeat:’ Donations pour in for home heat

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DIXFIELD — A New York Times article spurred the nation to warm not only homes in Maine but the heart of an oil company owner.

Ike Libby, owner of Hometown Energy in Dixfield, was featured in a Saturday article in the New York Times about the struggle Mainers face in heating their homes during difficult times.

After the article was published, Libby and his office were flooded with calls from around the nation from people wanting to make donations.

“We’ve had calls from Laguna Beach, Calif., Georgia, Oregon, Wisconsin,” he said. “Just everywhere.”

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The total for Saturday was close to six figures, Libby said. Hometown Energy plans to set up a trust fund to help those who are having difficulty heating their homes.

Libby has been delivering oil most of his life. Eight years ago, he opened Hometown Energy with Gene Ellis, a Dixfield resident and owner of Ellis’ Variety.

Employees said Libby has always had a big heart and has difficulty saying no to customers who could not pay their bills.

“We just answer the phones in the office,” employee Janis Carlton said. “Ike’s the one who has to go to these homes and see how desperate these folks are.”

The article focused on a couple from Peru, Wilma and Robert Hartford, who struggled to fill their tank.

The Hartfords, who are disabled and retired, must survive on $1,200 a month. They went to Libby and offered the title to their car until payment could be made on their heating bill.

Carlton contacted her mother, Diane Carlton, who is also an employee, and agreed to pay for 50 gallons of heating oil. Later in the week, Libby delivered 100 gallons more to the couple, Robert Hartford said.

“Its tough to tell somebody you can’t bring them oil,” Libby said. “We have been in business for eight years and we are further in the hole than when we started.”

Libby often tries to help those that he can. He will make small deliveries, wave service fees or set up payment plans that often leave his checkbook empty.

“He didn’t even know us,” Hartford said. “He just has a heartbeat beyond most people.”

The Hartfords were also receiving donations throughout the day Saturday, including having their house winterized by Josh Wojcik of Upright Frameworks.

“We just did an interview,” Hartford said. “We thought it would get printed and that was it.”

Hartford said this is more of what America needs: people helping each other.

Dan Barry, the New York Times reporter who wrote the article, was moved by the response.

“I’m blown away,” he said. “I thought some people might call, but I never expected this type of response.”

Barry said he wanted to write the article to show how living in the cold can be a struggle.

“Its a hidden challenge,” he said. “It might not really meet someone’s criteria for struggling, because they aren’t on the street in a box, but it still exists.”

Barry said he believed Mainers take care of each other and that is what helps people pull through.

“I tip my hat off to Maine,” he said.

Libby and his staff struggled most of the day to keep up with phone calls. At times, he was at a loss for words and fighting back emotion from the overwhelming response.

 “I didn’t expect this to happen,” he said. “You can’t even put it into words. America’s got a heartbeat and we are hearing it.”

ecox@sunjournal.com

To donate to a trust set up to help people who cannot afford heating oil, contact Hometown Energy at 562-8822 or mail checks to Hometown Energy at P.O. Box 485, Dixfield, ME 04224 or through www.HometownEnergyMaine.com.

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