WILTON — The winter season has finally set in and with the conclusion of the holidays, the coldest winter months are right around the corner. With the rise in heating oil prices, many are concerned about the affordability of staying warm.

Judy Frost, Program Director for Community Services at Western Maine Community Action [WMCA], has been feeling the pressure of these concerns from her clients, but is confident that WMCA will be able to continue providing those in need with ways to keep their homes warm.

When it comes to fuel, there are several different sources that WMCA can help with, including heating oil, wood, pellets, kerosene, and electric heating. The only heating source they cannot help with is coal due to the lack of a local coal vendor.

“Generally, when they heat with coal, they also can burn wood in that stove, or bio bricks or something else,” Frost added.

With the rise in oil prices, a significant number of people are switching to other ways of keeping warm. According to Frost, due to the high number of elderly people in Franklin County, they have been distributing more wood, but it’s been a challenge keeping up with the large number of requests for firewood.

“[Some of] our clientele, as you probably know, are elderly,” she said. “We are the oldest county in the state, I believe. And so those folks are tending to go to wood more now, because they know how to burn it. You know, so we are seeing an increase.”


For clients that receive wood through WMCA, they have three primary vendors that supply wood. However, the high amount of requests means that these vendors must make small deliveries at first to hold those customers over until they can make their full delivery, according to Frost.

“They get inundated with requests when we send them out,” she said. “So right now, a lot of them are taking a quarter to help [clients] get by until they can get the rest of it out to them. But it’s not for the lack of being able to get the wood, it is more that they have so many requests that they’re trying to serve everybody at once.”

To pay for these different fuel sources, WMCA has been distributing funds from the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program [LIHEAP] for 41 years. This year, however, saw a sharp increase in the cost of heating oil.

By May, the cost of heating oil reached $5.92 per gallon. The price was down by November, coming to $5.71 a gallon. According to the Governor’s Energy Office, the price currently sits at $4.74 a gallon as of Dec. 5.

Many people saw the trend of fluctuating oil prices and tried to prepare themselves for the coming winter months. Aaron Raymo of Jay told the Associated Press in October that he had been buying heating oil in 5-gallon increments over the summer as costs started to rise.

Now that the cold season is here, Frost believes that those who began receiving heating funds in November will see their funds run out sooner than expected.


“We figure probably in January and February, we will be really busy with folks who got their benefit in November and have now run out of the heat funds and will be looking for ECIP [Energy Crisis Intervention Program] funds,” she said.

This does not necessarily mean that those people are out of luck, however. According to Frost, if clients start to run out of heating oil, wood, or kerosene, WMCA has ties to several resources to help their clients.

“We do have an emergency component, and it’s after they’ve used all of their fuel dollars. [The client] can give us a call if they’re down below a quarter of a tank [of heating oil or propane], or [they have] less than a week’s worth of pellets or wood, then we can authorize a delivery of up to $800,” she stated.

Frost also highlighted several community efforts to help supplement heating cost, with the biggest proponent being Rev. Susan Crane and her program, the Franklin County Ecumenical Heating Fund [ECU-HEAT], which is in conjunction with her organization, Farmington Area Ecumenical Ministry.

“Susan Crane, who was a pastor at Henderson Memorial, started a few years ago what we call ECU-SHARE. This is a fund where the local churches raise money and people make donations,” Frost stated.

Frost also mentioned a program in Jay that just started back up through St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church.

“St. Rose in Jay called me, and we now have the Jay fund again,” she said, “So that was a pleasant [surprise] especially with what’s going on with the mill in Jay right now.

“And I will just tell you that at this point, local funds I have put out there more than $75,000 already. This community steps up and has been just so supportive and a lot of that goes to Susan Crane,” she said.

“Last year, with the ECU-SHARE, I only spent about $30,000 all year, and I’m already at $75,000 and it’s not January.”

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