RIPTON — Residents in the climes of Ripton and Lincoln have not had to touch their thermostats for several months, but they are already beginning to think about the cold winter ahead — and particularly about their neighbors who might not have the resources to stay warm.
With that in mind, community volunteers are stockpiling wood as a heating fuel source for low-income households. Lincoln is maintaining a “wood bank” for those in need, while Ripton Energy Assistance Program (REAP) supporters are getting ready to erect a shed on town property that will hold around 16 cords.
“We just felt this was something we could do for the people who need it; we would love to see it in all the towns,” Warren King, a member of the REAP steering committee, said of the program.
King explained that REAP formed around four years ago, at a time when fuel oil prices were hovering around $4 per gallon. It became clear that some Riptonites would be hard-pressed to pay for enough fuel to last the winter.
So locals with timber and other resources decided to step in. Led by a steering committee, REAP usually attracts 10 to 20 community members to periodic “sawing bees,” where they saw and split donated wood. That wood is provided by local landowners, including Middlebury College, which provided timber that was removed to make way for a cross-country skiing trail. The effort also benefited from trees felled a year ago by Tropical Storm Irene.
“We have made it known that we are happy to accept wood,” King said.
Once cut and split, the wood at this point is taken by truck to a field owned by one of the steering committee members. Around a dozen cords are kept there at any one time. But that will change soon, thanks to $1,000 in local donations and a $2,500 grant received from the Middlebury-based Vermont Community Foundation. Those combined funds — with another few thousand dollars left to raise — will be used to construct a wood shed that will soon be built on municipal land behind the Ripton firehouse. The new structure will be stick-built using volunteer labor and will be approximately 16 feet by 24 feet, according to King.
REAP officials are optimistic the program will remain strong. The group sends out a postcard donation reminder every fall to each of the town’s approximately 220 households. This has allowed REAP to establish a fuel fund, under the auspices of Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects, for Ripton residents who meet federal poverty guidelines. That account currently contains more than $3,000, according to King.
All told, King said REAP helps around a dozen local households per year with wood, fuel oil or propane purchases.
Meanwhile, Lincoln residents are pitching in to keep their neighbors warm when the mercury begins to dive.
A local group is managing a “wood bank” outside of the former town garage off East River Road. It is available for “withdrawals” by people of limited means who find themselves in emergency fuel shortages during the winter.
“It’s a huge pile of wood and there are a lot of volunteers helping with it,” said Lincoln Town Clerk Sally Ober.
Anyone interested in contributing or helping with these fuel assistance efforts can reach REAP at P.O. Box 100, Ripton, VT 05766, or contact John Howell in Lincoln at 453-5396.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]