A Franklin County heating assistance program is reporting increased requests for help this year.

The ECU Heat program in Franklin County, which gives 50 gallons of fuel for $50 to county families, reports that as of Dec. 10, it has helped heat 272 homes compared with last season when they helped 353 all winter.

Pastor Susan Crane of Farmington Baptist Church, who helps run the program, said she thinks one of the ironic reasons for the growth in senior citizens seeking assistance is a decision by program organizers to start charging $50 for the one-time 50-gallon fuel assistance.

Crane said seniors seem more comfortable accepting fuel assistance when they make a payment compared to getting a straight handout.

“It lets them feel like they can ask for help without hurting their pride,” she said.

Along with the $50 match, Crane said one reason for the increased demand was better advertising and better outreach to residents who might need temporary heating assistance while waiting for heat benefits from the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

ECU Heat is a ministry of the Farmington Area Ecumenical Council, an organization of Franklin County churches that also runs other ministries including the Farmington warming center. ECU Heat serves every community in Franklin County with the exception of Jay, which is served by the Good Neighbor Fuel Fund.

The program doesn’t check finances, but asks applicants to fill out an application that indicates whey they consider themselves to be low income and in need of the assistance.

The program, administered by Western Maine Community Action, requires participants to pay a $50 money order in return for 50 gallons of one-time emergency heating fuel.

As of Dec. 10, the fund had delivered $47,357 in emergency fuel deliveries, which Crane said would have “wiped out the entire fund” if the families hadn’t been asked to contribute the matching $50. The $50 matches for that period totaled $13,600.

Last winter, $67,071.34 worth of fuel was delivered to 353 homes with the applicants contributing $17,650 of the cost and ECU Heat paying $49,421.34.

Crane said people started asking for matches after their heating fund was almost wiped out two years ago.

“People say, ‘We thought you were crazy.’ They’ve been very surprised most people are happy to contribute their $50,” she said.

Out of the households helped so far, 86 of the homes include someone who is disabled and 118 of the households have someone who is either over 60 years old or under the age of 2.

“The older people say, ‘I don’t need that help. I don’t need a handout.’ And we’ll say ‘You get to pay for part of it.’ Then it’s ‘Oh, I guess I could try it,'” she said.

Crane said the demand on the ECU Heat program traditionally slows down during December when the LIHEAP benefits come in.

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252

[email protected]

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