FARMINGTON — Members of the Henderson Memorial Baptist Church kicked off a new season of fundraising for the fuel assistance needs of Franklin County residents on July 4.

Following the parade, grilled or steamed hot dogs were given away to all comers. Donations were accepted for the Franklin County Ecumenical Heating Fund. Despite the rainy weather and the smaller community turnout, the amount raised was $464.30.

The Rev. Susan Crane, coordinator of the Ecumenical Heating Fund, was on hand to update donors about the work of ECU HEAT. During the 2008-09 heating season, the program assisted 168 households throughout Franklin County, each with a 50-gallon fuel delivery, for a total of 11,150 gallons. At last year’s prices for heating oil, nearly $40,000 in community-generated funds were needed to help people in need from Sept. 1 through Thanksgiving. Because the fund ran dry, for three weeks last November, people had to be turned away.

Fundraisers hope to raise enough money to be able to help all callers this fall. Crane estimated that $25,000 to $45,000 would be needed for the coming fall; currently, it has raised $26,000 toward that goal.

Once the federal Low-Income Heating Assistance Program funds arrive in Maine around Dec. 1, the level of need will subside. It is then that ECU HEAT will become a lifeline for those not eligible for the federal program. For those without credit with a local fuel dealer, it means purchasing a minimum of 100 gallons, cash on delivery.

ECU HEAT is an outreach ministry of the Farmington Area Ecumenical Ministry. The fund has been helping to keep residents warm since 2004. It operates in partnership with Western Maine Community Action. Every attempt to supply the need with federal or state funds is exhausted before using ECU HEAT funds.

Nevertheless, funds do provide the lion’s share of the privately raised fuel assistance for Franklin County. In the previous heating season, 83 families were helped. Last season the number more than doubled. The funds are made possible through gifts from churches, individuals, businesses and service organizations in Franklin County.

Churches in Franklin County raised $20,407 in 2008-09. Churches came up with many creative ways to raise money, from the Inaugural Ball in Farmington to a Boar’s Head Feast and a Greek dinner in Wilton. The efforts kept the fund visible and offered the community a way to help share the warmth.

As a ministry of the Farmington Area Ecumenical Ministry, a tax-exempt charitable organization, all donations to the Franklin County Ecumenical Heating Fund are tax deductible. To donate, checks payable to ECU HEAT can be mailed to P.O. Box 147, Farmington, ME 04938.

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