MIDDLEBURY — Officials at the organization Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects (HOPE) are bracing for what they believe will be a substantial spike in requests for assistance from area residents unable to pay their fuel and utility bills.
As of the end of September, HOPE was more than 50-percent shy of meeting its $128,000 donation goal to help people facing electricity shut-offs and/or at risk of seeing their fuel oil tanks go dry. This is assistance accorded to people who have exhausted their own resources and governmental assistance programs.
Jeanne Montross, executive director of HOPE, said the organization fielded 29 requests for utility assistance during what was a fairly mild October.
“If it had been colder, there would have likely been more,” Montross said.
Montross and Becky Dayton, HOPE board chairwoman, acknowledged and praised the state, federal and utility-led programs providing fuel assistance to qualifying Vermonters. Gov. Peter Shumlin announced last week the infusion of $8.8 million in state funds to help supplement the federal Low-Income Heating Energy Assistance Program, known as LIHEAP. But they noted such programs come with income qualification limits and at times a waiting period for the assistance to kick in.
“We at HOPE are able to use our discretion and our community-generated funds to provide that additional bit of aid — say, the $25 special trip charge that the Champlain Valley Office Of Economic Opportunity-administered Crisis Fuel program won’t pay — that may make all the difference between someone’s home going cold and keeping it warm,” Dayton said.
“We do not cap assistance at a certain dollar level, but do what is needed to turn the heat on,” Montross said. “We call on churches and donors, and rely on community members sending in donations. We do not receive federal funds to provide this help.”
HOPE also works with clients to help them manage their household budgets more effectively, so that they are better able to set aside money for their fuel and other household needs.
“In short, HOPE is the final safety net,” Dayton said. “Our independence and grass-roots nature lends us the agility it takes to shuffle quickly to where we are most needed. And right now, with temperatures falling and the economy showing no sign of dramatic improvement, HOPE is preparing to respond to our many neighbors who are in need of heating aid. Regardless of the funding patch for public fuel aid currently in the news, there will always be additional need, and that is what we at HOPE strive to provide.”
Officials said donations can be made to HOPE (P.O. Box 165, Middlebury, VT 05753) and will translate directly intoimmediate aid to Addison County residents in serious need. Dayton also stressed that people who wish to contribute in a more general way to the well-being of Addison County residents can also contribute to the United Way of Addison County, which is currently in its annual campaign period.
“Both HOPE and United Way allow donors to designate how their contributions are to be used,” Dayton said. “You live in this community. Please give in this community.”
Reporter John Flowers is at email@example.com.