The need continues

This past heating season, the Windham County Heat Fund provided $62,576 worth of fuel to 109 people and families — often for neighbors experiencing financial catastrophe

BRATTLEBORO — The Windham County Heat Fund, an IRS-recognized tax-deductible nonprofit, was started in 2005 by me and Daryl Pillsbury. We never intended to create a fund that would keep going for so long but the need never decreases. So we raise money every year and rely on a generous community to do the heavy lifting for us. They always come through, and Daryl and I - and the people we help - are grateful for the support.

This past heating season, the fund provided fuel to 109 people and families, and we spent $62,576 for oil, propane, kerosene, wood pellets, wood, and electricity.

To do so, 81 individuals and a number of local businesses and churches donated $55,542. Daryl and I continue to work for the fund without compensation, and we have almost no administrative expenses. The money we raise goes directly to energy companies to buy fuel for those in need.

We try to vet applications and rely on local human service agencies as well as the front-line people at local fuel dealers to help us make sure we are helping the people who need it the most.

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The amazing story of our fundraising is that we put very little effort into raising money.

Over the years, most of our donors send us a check on a regular basis - which seems miraculous, because we don't have a website, we don't have a mailing list, and we don't make public pleas, except for a yearly commentary in local publications. It is a testament to the generosity and uniqueness of our community.

We thank the Brattleboro VFW, Sunrise Rotary, Clear Solutions, the Brattleboro Elks, Mary Meyer Corporation, Guilford Community Church, St. Michael's Episcopal Church, the First United Church, and Dave Snyder and Sara Coffey. The Willard Trust has been a faithful yearly supporter, and we are thankful for that.

Daryl and I often consider ending the work of the heat fund, but then we hear from someone whom we helped, and we know that the need never goes away.

The gap between the haves and the have-nots is greater than it has ever been, and there is no indication that we will be living in a society of economic equality anytime soon.

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We can step back and try to look at the big picture but, in the end, we are changing the world with small efforts that make a big difference.

Sadly, we often hear from people who may have recently been diagnosed with cancer or who have had a brush with death because of an accident.

In our society, people who have those experiences generally lose their job and their health insurance almost instantly, and their life ends up in the toilet.

No one can plan for these kinds of catastrophes, but when they happen people have to scramble to find local resources. When they contact us, or when a caseworker calls us, we respond with minimal paperwork and give people the fuel they no longer can afford.

We also hear from people who have to work two or three jobs just to pay the rent and keep the family going. Heating fuel tends to drop down on the priority list, and a family can end up trying to stretch each gallon and live at 55 degrees. It is not a comfortable or safe thing to do, and when we find out about these people we fill their tanks.

The heat fund mostly helps people once a year, and we try to ask people not to rely on us every year. We look at each situation on a case-by-case basis, and we do not have strict rules. Life is complicated, and so are our decisions.

We were able to head into last heating season with a small surplus, and that meant we could help people before fuel assistance programs start in late November. That surplus is still available for next fall.

We accept donations anytime. You can send a check made out to the Windham County Heat Fund, c/o Richard Davis, 63 Cedar St., Brattleboro, VT 05301, or donate directly to our account at Brattleboro Savings and Loan.

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