RUMFORD – A group got together Wednesday to brainstorm ideas that could help people with heating assistance this winter and teach people how to help themselves.

“This is a big county. What can we do to connect the River Valley with the rest of Oxford County?” asked Patricia Duguay, director of the River Valley Growth Council.

Representatives from the United Way of Norway, SeniorsPlus and Community Concepts joined Rotary Club members, a local landlord, and Rumford’s town manager and welfare director to try to identify ways to get the word out that help is available.

Dennis Gray of United Way said all information will be available on the Oxford County Web site as it is developed. A call to 211 can also point people to the right agency to provide help.

Rotarian Gary Haines, who with Duguay is co-leader of a local weatherization project, agreed to be the contact person for getting information from providers and those who need help getting onto the 211 telephone site.

Among plans to combat a cold winter and high fuel-oil prices is a one-page outline of things people can do to button up their homes, and a card that’s green on one side and red on the other to indicate whether someone at home is OK or needs help. The card will be placed in a front window.

The cards will have emergency contact numbers and be distributed at polls, in town halls, and through Meals on Wheels and the Chamber of Commerce, among other ways.

Gray said 22 centers are being developed throughout the county that will serve as warming shelters. They could be town offices, libraries, fire stations or other public buildings, and would provide places for people to go during the day to stay warm so their thermostats could be turned down.

Sites will be listed on the Oxford County Web site when they are identified.

SeniorsPlus is organizing fairs to provide information on services such as fuel assistance and food stamps, representative Connie Jones said. The fair for this area is scheduled for 1 to 4 p.m. on Nov. 6 at the American Legion Hall on Congress Street.

Michael Burke, interim Community Concepts director, said that agency has taken 4,000 applications for fuel assistance and will continue to take applications. Although weatherization is crucial to saving fuel, he said his agency has little money for projects and has a three-year waiting list.

People must also help save fuel costs by wearing warm clothing, shutting windows, tuning furnaces and covering drafty windows with plastic.

Duguay will present more hints for tightening up homes at the monthly Healthy Communities Coalition board meeting on Sept. 24.

“We want to show what people can do for themselves that’s inexpensive and makes a difference,” she said.

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