JONESPORT (AP) – During her 87 years, all of them spent in Washington County, Elizabeth Emerson’s only real indulgence has been the occasional chocolate bar.

But when she revealed that secret to a New York Times reporter for a story on the impact of soaring fuel prices on the low-income elderly, she wasn’t prepared for the sweet response that followed.

Letters started arriving in Emerson’s mailbox from across the country, some with individual bars of chocolate inside. She hit the jackpot in mid-December with an assortment from Hershey Co. that was accompanied by a personal note.

“I couldn’t believe it. I laughed more than anything. All that fuss over little old me,” Emerson told the Bangor Daily News.

The story by Times reporter Erik Eckholm, who was sent to Washington County to profile how its low-income elderly endure harsh Northeast winters, gave a snapshot of Emerson’s life: married for a half-century, grandmother and great-grandmother to 52, former aide at a nearby nursing home, now struggling to live on a $683-a-month Social Security check.

The storys final line disclosed her secret: “My greatest vice is Hershey bars.”

Eckholm said the story drew more reaction from Times readers than any he has written in recent memory.

“I’m sure I got more than 60 or 70 e-mails or phone messages from readers who said they wanted to help out,” he said. “There were a number of people who said they wanted to send chocolate.”

Emerson displayed the remains of her chocolate collection at her kitchen table.

“This isn’t even all of it. I’ve given boxes and boxes away,” she said. “I couldn’t enjoy it if I wasn’t able to share.”

Besides, she said, “I can only eat so much chocolate.”

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