Southeastern Vermont Community Action (SEVCA) and WCFR radio kicked off the "Share the Warmth" Campaign on September 28 at the Springfield Royal Diner with Governor Jim Douglas and Lieutenant Governor Brian Dubie.
This year, the campaign is being sponsored by Cota & Cota, Walnut Hill Realty, and the Valley Yellow Pages.
The "Share the Warmth" Fund has been used to help households who can't be served by the federally-funded fuel assistance program for one reason or another. Many of those served by the fund are working households who may earn just too much to be eligible, but still can't afford a fuel delivery. Last winter, in the campaign's 2nd year, local businesses, churches, organizations, and individuals in Windham and Windsor counties stepped up to truly "share the warmth" and donate over $46,000 to help local residents heat their homes, more than double the previous year's total.
Over the last year, many more people have been touched by the economic crisis, and awareness of these issues has become much more widespread.
The Vermont State Fuel Office reported that statewide it received 40,924 applications seeking Seasonal Fuel Assistance, but only 26,285 of those households were eligible.
The Share the Warmth fund helped fill the gap in this area. "We were able to help a lot of people in need who had been denied assistance, such as seniors and the working poor," explained Executive Director Steve Geller.
"We were amazed and deeply moved by the incredible response to our call for help."
The idea for the "Share the Warmth" campaign was originally born in October 2007, when WCFR's new Station Manager Ray Kimball and SEVCA staff first met to discuss the impending crisis they feared would occur in the upcoming winter.
As fuel prices escalated and winter loomed, the steady stream of anxious phone calls to SEVCA requesting fuel assistance reached panic proportions.
This is Share the Warmth's 3rd year and SEVCA is expanding the fund's range to include housing assistance, which is now the most critical hardship for many low-income residents.
"After all, sharing the warmth won't do any good if people don't have a home to keep warm," noted Geller.
The campaign will continue to include SEVCA staff interviews to highlight the agency's array of services, as well as focus on clients' actual experiences.
People will hear about what their neighbors are going through just to meet their basic needs, including the sometimes desperate and dangerous measures taken to keep warm."
Anyone wishing to donate may drop their donation off at the "Good Buy" stores during the "Share the Warmth" Campaign, or send a check to SEVCA, 91 Buck Drive, Westminster, VT 05158, or call 722-4575 to charge their gift to their credit card or to get more information.