by Chris Chase
Coastal Journal staff
BRUNSWICK — The Warm Thy Neighbor program, organized by Tedford Housing based out of Brunswick, has seen a record number of people requesting aid this year.
The record demand has been straining the budget of the program, which has seen a reduction in the donations they receive in addition to the high demand.
“There’s definitely more people this year,” said Tina Sanders, who determines eligibility for the program. “Last year, the last application I took was May 31, and that was 173 applications. So far this year we’ve done 113, and it’s only January. We’ve still got several months left, and I’m anticipating that it will be a lot more.”
The program itself is short-term only, with accepted applicants only able to receive aid once a year.
“Warm Thy Neighbor is an emergency heating assistance fund serving Brunswick and surrounding towns,” said Craig Phillips, the executive director of Tedford Housing. “People will call, sit down with our housing counselor, who determines the need and eligibility, and if the person’s need and eligibility are all in line while the person is meeting with us, we’ll call an energy distributor.”
That aid is usually given the same day as the application is accepted, according to Sanders. The real benefit of the program comes from its flexibility and immediate aid, which can be of great help to people who suddenly find themselves in a new situation and need heat fast.
“When a person initially calls me and sets up an appointment, depending on the situation, I can usually set up an appointment the same day. They come in and do the application and right then we call the fuel company,” said Sanders. “We help with 100 gallons of whatever type of fuel you use, or if you use wood, we give a comparable amount monetarily.”
Eligibility for the program is determined by Sanders, typically well before the participant even comes into the office for a meeting. Certain factors, such as location, are easily identifiable and immediately disqualify people, as the program is limited to the greater Brunswick area.
“We check to see if they’ve ever applied before, what their family situation is, whether they rent or own,” said Sanders. “We definitely make exceptions for a lot of different things.”
Now, however, the aid money that has helped hundreds with short-term heating needs is about to run out. This year’s record number of requests, coupled with lower donations, has left the coffers of the program nearly empty.
“Last year, we served about 150 people and spent about $50,000. This year, we’ve served about 100 people already, but have only received a little over $30,000 in donations,” said Phillips. “For whatever reason, we’re behind this year.”
According to Phillips, they will soon hold a meeting to determine what to do about the lack of funding. If things get too dire, they may have to stop receiving applications.
“We are figuring out what to do,” said Phillips. “It’s not a great week for this to happen, the coldest week so far this year.”
That lack of funding hits many hard, especially people who have relied on the program for supplementary heating. One beneficiary, who Sanders described as an older woman, has turned to the program for the past three years.
“She’s gotten into that unfortunate cycle and just can’t seem to get out. She does without a lot of things in order to pay her debts,” said Sanders. “The need to pay her debt is more important to her than being warm. She doesn’t see the importance of taking care of herself as much as taking care of her debts.”
According to Sanders, the criteria isn’t based on earnings alone, it’s a combination of earnings and expenses.
“I see all kinds of different stories; sometimes it’s kind of tough,” said Sanders. “We see the full income spectrum. I’ve seen folks that are business owners and folks that are on child support.”
Unless more donations come in, that support will run out soon. But until then, they plan on helping as many people as they can.
“I don’t think we’ll change the eligibility,” said Sanders. “I’m not really sure what we’re going to do if we run out of funds.”
Anyone looking to help the Warm Thy Neighbor program, or looking for heat, can call their offices at 729-1161.