VASSALBORO — With December comes the holiday season, and many people hope for a white Christmas.

But this December has brought brutally cold temperatures, with many days barely escaping single digits and nights dipping below zero degrees. And yet, winter hasn’t officially even started — the winter solstice falls on Dec. 21.

With the region filled with old, drafty housing stock and many residents living modestly, the Friends Advocating for Vassalboro’s Older Residents committee took on the responsibility to help residents keep their homes warm through the harsh winter and have been busy at Ray Breton’s Olde Mill Place making inserts to put in windows.

Vassalboro Town Manager Mary Sabins on Saturday said that the group, known as FAVOR, has been working with a Rockland-based nonprofit group called WindowDressers to build window inserts that go on the inside of windows.

“It’s for everyone who has drafty windows,” Sabins said.

Volunteers built the inserts on Saturday and Sunday, working two separate four-hour shifts each day, the first from 8 a.m. until noon, and the second from 1 to 5 p.m.

Walking around the section of the mill where the volunteers worked, Sabins showed how each station was part of a well-coordinated process. At one station, volunteers applied double-sided tape to the wooden frames, which were then transferred to a new station to get wrapped with plastic. Then the process was repeated at new stations. Then the frames wrapped in plastic went through a heating station to ensure they were wrinkle-free and ready to go. Finally, a layer of clear tape goes around the perimeter of the frames to keep it all together.

All told, FAVOR made 267 frames for 26 customers. Volunteers went to every home where inhabitants placed an order to measure the windows for the inserts. Many of those who ordered inserts were older residents.

“All the inserts are either ready to be wrapped or are wrapped,” Sabins said, initially estimating that volunteers could finish around 60 frames a day.

WindowDressers uses a volunteer model that helps keep the cost of the inserts low, making it viable for seniors or other residents on fixed or low incomes. An insert of average size is $25 for a pine finish and $31 for a white finish, but are also priced according to a person’s circumstances with those unable to pay able to receive up to 10.

Inserts that were put together incorrectly are fixed free of charge. Those scratched by pets or otherwise damaged can be re-wrapped for $10.

Sabins said WindowDressers came and helped them set up the stations at the Olde Mill.

According to its website, WindowDressers is a group dedicated to helping Maine residents reduce heating costs, fossil fuel consumption, and CO2 emissions by lowering the amount of heat loss through windows. Citing Maine as having the oldest housing stock in the nation, the group targets leaky windows and estimates that their customers save 10 to 20 percent on fuel consumption. The group donates 22 percent of its inserts to low income families who otherwise can’t afford them.

Laura Seaton, the director of community builds for WindowDressers, said the town of Vassalboro reached out to them. This is typically a late time in the organization’s season, but Seaton said they had one spot left for a community build, so Vassalboro got it.

She said they will have done 27 community builds this season, which runs from September into January. She estimated they will have made over 6,000 inserts this year. She said WindowDressers helps construct inserts all across the state, from Wells to Mount Desert Island, with plans to keep growing.

“We’re going to be even more places next year,” she said.

Seaton praised the volunteers in Vassalboro, as they were able to finish their build well ahead of schedule. Typically, a build lasts four or five days, and Vassalboro had scheduled four days at the mill. But because of the number of volunteers and how well they were coordinated, Vassalboro was able to wrap up in two days.

“They were exceptionally well organized,” Seaton said.

Sabins said one of the largest customers the town had was the Historical Society, which occupies the former East Vassalboro Grammar School, a big red building in the East Village area. The Historical Society was founded in 1963, but the building they call home was built before then and has drafty windows.

“They’re excited about this opportunity,” Sabins said.

Once inserts are complete, customers pick them up. They are given instructions on how to install them and then how to take them out again in the spring and store them when not in use. If properly taken care of, the inserts are estimated to last about 10 years, Sabins said. They can also be re-wrapped if needed.

Some customers paid for the inserts, but Sabins said others did not. If a resident can’t afford the cost, they are given 10 free pine inserts. Paying customers send their money to WindowDressers. If customers can’t pay the full price, they are asked to give a donation they are comfortable with. All are asked to volunteer in some capacity. On Saturday, about 15 volunteers worked in the old mill, making the stations run like clockwork, with each station fully occupied.

“All are asked to contribute something,” she said.

Sabins said other town committees were asked to provide volunteers as well.

FAVOR had hoped to get around 10 customers in the first year, but the 26 they attracted is much closer to the usual size WindowDressers builds, which are usually between 30 and 40. WindowDressers, which was started in a church in Rockland years ago, trains community members to measure customers’ windows and take orders, as well as build the final product. The frames are cut and put together in Rockland, where Vassalboro volunteers went to pick them up prior to the build.

This was the first time Sabins had coordinated the build in Vassalboro, she said, but thought the town had done a build about six years ago that was coordinated by a different group run by Quakers. WindowDressers is not religiously affiliated.

Once word gets around town about the event and more interest arises, Sabins said she expects there may be future window insert builds. While it’s hard to say for sure what the future is for the program in town, the builds can be organized quickly if volunteers are available. In Vassalboro, with FAVOR’s backing, only two months of planning were needed to get ready for the build, Sabins said.

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

[email protected]

Twitter: @colinoellis

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