FARMINGTON — While spring is in the air, it’s still too cold to turn off the heat, leaving some Franklin County residents needing help from area programs like the Franklin County Ecumenical Heating Fund.

The program expects to help at least 50 more families this spring and 150 starting next fall,the Rev. Susan Crane said Tuesday morning. As she spoke, participants from local warming centers posted colorful painted murals and posters with facts about the program in the windows of the former Sun-Journal office on Main Street.

The posters will remain up through the month of March while collection canisters are placed in some area businesses, she said.

Families without credit have to come up with about $300 cash for delivery of 100 gallons of kerosene and that’s pretty tough, Crane said.

“We’re receiving requests from people with zero incomes, surviving on just food stamps,” she said. “These are new people that we’ve not helped before.”

The program, known as ECU HEAT, a ministry of churches involved in the Farmington Area Ecumenical Ministry, has raised more than $41,000 to help 521 people or more than 200 families. New families from all over the county continue to apply for the 50 to 100 gallons of emergency oil provided one time per heating season.

More than 11,000 gallons were purchased for families throughout Franklin County from September 2008 to May 2009.

Along with other similar fuel-aid programs in Franklin County, more than $80,000 was raised and spent to help local families during 2009, said Lisa Laflin, executive director of the United Way of the Tri Valley Area.

“This year, the percentage of individuals who did not qualify for LIHEAP (the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program) accessing ECU HEAT funds is significantly higher,” Laflin said, reflecting on the current economic conditions and lack of employment.

About 40 participants from those who attended the Warming Centers this year in Salem, Wilton and Farmington were asked by Nancy Teel to express what the center has meant to them through bright, colorful paintings now pasted together to create long murals. These were posted to remind people of the need that is still present.

Those in need of fuel assistance may call 645-3764, ext. 5523 or 5230. Tania Gage and Judy Frost at Western Maine Community Action administer the program for the churches while helping those applying to connect with LIHEAP applications and other services.

Contributions to ECU HEAT are tax-deductible and acknowledged by Crane. Donations may be mailed to ECU HEAT, P.O. Box 147, Farmington, ME 04938 as well as accepted in area containers placed in local businesses this month.

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