MANCHESTER — Centerpieces of pine and fir branches adorned with colorful ribbons, lights and tinsel covered tables behind auctioneer Robert Verrill at the Manchester Elementary School gym.

“Don’t be bashful,” Verrill said into the microphone. “It’s all going to the fuel assistance.”

Nearly all of the 75 seasonal centerpieces, wreaths, poinsettia and gift baskets either made by volunteers or donated sold at the Sunday afternoon charity auction for at least $20, and many fetched $50 or more.

All proceeds went to the Manchester Fuel Assistance Fund, a program run by the town to pay for heating costs of needy residents. Last year at least 10 households received the roughly $3,000 raised in aid, said Manchester Town Manager Patrick Gilbert.

People applying at the town office can receive 100 gallons of fuel, a cord of wood or $250 to pay for electric heat, Gilbert said. It’s administered similarly to the General Assistance program but is specifically for heating costs. Gilbert said he’s seen the demand for heating assistance from the program and General Assistance increase in recent years.

The head of United Way of Kennebec Valley said last week more stringent requirements for applying for federal heating assistance funds could lead some people this year to seek money from local General Assistance programs instead, increasing the burden on those programs.

An organization overseeing the federal program reported that the new requirement that applicants show their Social Security cards before they can get Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program funds is slowing an already backed-up application review process. The Kennebec Valley Community Action Program, which processes the federal fund requests of residents of Kennebec, Somerset, Sagadahoc and Lincoln counties, already has so many appointments scheduled that a new applicant who calls now to make an appointment isn’t likely to get one until April.

One of the committee members for the Manchester fuel assistance program, Diana Worthing, 58, said about 40 to 45 volunteers made the wreaths and centerpieces with the help of professional florists during three days of workshops.

“It’s just satisfying making sure there is something available to those that need it,” she said.

About an hour into the auction, Anna Bouchard, 54, of Oakland, had won a centerpiece covered in pink ribbon, a wreath and a poinsettia. But she wasn’t done yet.

“I’d like to get one of the trees,” she said, pointing to a miniature Christmas tree on the table covered in shiny blue ribbons and ornaments.

Bouchard said she helped make two of the centerpieces this year.

A popular item, a wreath with white lights, gold ribbon and winterberries, sold for $70.

“I guarantee you, if you hang this on your door and you have guests over, they’ll love it,” Verrill said.

The Manchester Fire Department assisted by volunteering at the event and donating $260 to the fund. Instead of doing their annual gift swap, the firefighters were asked to donate money to the fuel assistance program, said Manchester Fire Chief Clarence Cram.

Worthing was worried at the start of the auction that the turnout didn’t seem as strong as in past years. However, the number of people walking through the doors — and the bidding — picked up through the whole auction. Most items were sold an hour into the auction.

“You’re very generous people,” Verrill told the attendees partway through the auction. “But, you know, I’ve lived in Manchester my whole life, so I already knew that.”

People interested in donating to the fund can contact the Manchester Town Office at (207) 622-1894.

Paul Koenig — 207-621-5663 [email protected] Twitter: @paul_koenig

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.