Wednesday November 21, 2012

This is the eighth year that the Windham County Heat Fund has been relying on the local community to support those among us who fall through the giant cracks of fuel assistance and general economic support.

It has finally started to frost up and there are a lot of families in Windham County who have had no fuel for months. Many of their applications are sitting on my desk waiting for some money to come in.

Thanks to the continuing generosity of groups such as the Brattleboro Sunrise Rotary Club, many churches, business owners and individuals, we have been able to help a few people who are waiting to receive the yearly meager federal and state fuel assistance. Sadly, funds such as that received from the Rotary were spoken for before we even cashed the check.

Daryl Pillsbury and I try not to inject politics into our Heat Fund work but I just can?t stop thinking about the fact that the feds keep cutting the fuel assistance allotment while they find the money for so many other programs.

According to a recent Huffington Post article it costs about $120.8 million to buy and run one drone aircraft. How about the Pentagon cutting four or five drones next year so that budget priorities can be shifted to hypothermic Americans? If only it were that simple.

More obscene are the profits reaped by oil companies. I?m not talking about local fuel dealers but the big boys who run the show. Those large corporations receive $4billion in annual oil and natural gas subsidies. The three biggest U.S. oil companies took in more than $80 billion in profit last year. Now that should be a simple fix, but it would require most of the members of congress to be on the same page and we know how likely that is.

Given these few misplaced priorities, the only meaningful change we can effect is to act locally and that is what the Heat Fund is all about. We can fill in a few of the gaps so that a single mother with two children does not have to wait until the end of November to have heat in her apartment.

The Heat Fund is not a panacea. We are only a small band-aid. We often provide a minimum fuel delivery of 100-150 gallons either before formal fuel assistance is available or after it runs out. Then they are the people who do not qualify for fuel assistance because something very bad suddenly happened.

It could be a cancer diagnosis that puts a breadwinner out of work and out of insurance or it could be the loss of a job due to a layoff. Too many of us are only a few paychecks away from not being able to pay for fuel, rent food or medicine and the overall situation does not seem to be getting much better despite the political rhetoric.

The Heat Fund is a simple operation run by two guys who receive no pay and who usually defray expenses out of their own pockets. That means that we usually have no administrative expenses and every dollar raised goes directly to buying fuel. We do not give people money. We buy fuel directly from dealers and arrange for delivery.

The fund also tries to make sure that all applicants first apply for every available resource before we help them. We give them contact information for SEVCA (Southeastern Vermont Community Action) and we have an arrangement with SEVCA that allows us to make sure people are following through with other applications and that they are not double-dipping.

Our fundraising goal is $50,000 this year and we are in need of money now so I can clear all the applications on my desk. You can send tax deductible donations made out to: Windham County Heat Fund, c/o Richard Davis, 679 Weatherhead Hollow Rd, Guilford, VT 05301 or you can donate directly at the Brattleboro Savings and Loan. Thanks for giving.

Richard Davis is a registered nurse and executive director of Vermont Citizens Campaign for Health. He writes from Guilford and welcomes comments at rbdav@comcast.net.