DANIELSON, Conn. (AP) – Late last month, the organizers of a regional emergency fuel service knew they were in trouble.
The fund, operated from a small office inside the United Methodist Church in Danielson, for decades has helped needy individuals in the Windham County area pay for their winter heating costs.
But the funding well was dry. “The fund was empty and we needed money to get us until Nov. 14, when federal heating aid money kicks in,” said Earl McWilliams, who along with Barbara Schreier, runs the emergency fund on behalf of the Killingly-Brooklyn Interfaith group. “So we sent a letter out to our local faith community and they came through.”
In a matter of days, congregations in Killingly, Brooklyn, Plainfield and beyond sent in donations, eventually replenishing the fuel fund with $2,000.
“These were small churches, some with maybe seven people sending in $75 or $100 or $900,” McWilliams said. “It just blew us away.”
The fuel fund was created about 30 years ago to help supplement state and federal heating programs. Since Nov. 14, 2017, the group has used $6,558 to aid 76 people, including 21 elderly or disabled persons and 23 children. The group typically collects fund money through various fundraisers or donations.
Schreier said potential clients come to her group through community care groups, like Access Community Action Agency, or word-of-mouth. She said the fund is a means of last resort for many individuals who’ve exhausted other sources of help.
“We see people on fixed incomes, Social Security or disability, who don’t get their checks until the first of the month and find themselves without money for heating oil,” she said. “They’re in trouble and have nowhere else to turn.”
McWilliams said state and federal heating aid typically runs out before the winter is through and some clients’ needs aren’t covered by those entities.
“We’ve had someone whose furnace broke and were able to supply them with propane tanks,” he said. “We’ve also helped people living out of vans or cars.
These are not repeat customers, but people with a real immediate need to stay warm.”
Schreier said she’s not surprised the wider faith community recently stepped up to help.
“People here respond to an emergency and it’s wonderful to see,” she said. “These are people living on the edge that are being helped with this money.”
Mary Ellen Goettel, a member of the Danielson Methodist church for decades, said the response to the donation solicitation was in keeping with the local community spirit.
“They know we’re helping people right in our region’s backyard,” she said.