SCARBOROUGH – If the month had by Project GRACE is any indication, some Mainers are in for a long winter.

According to volunteer board member Jim Elkins, who chairs the Scarborough-based nonprofit organization’s granting resources committee, the group had spent more to help families heat their homes by Dec. 10 than it did during the entire month of December last year.

“We’re up about 10 oil deliveries and $3,000 over where we were at this point last year,” he said.

According to the organization’s new executive director, Stephanie Cox, volunteers passed out 90 turkeys to needy families this year during her first Thanksgiving basket drive with the group. That’s up from just 43 two years ago.

“What we do needs to be done, it just really does,” said Elkins. “And, keep in mind, Project GRACE doesn’t just serve poor people, it also served people in crisis. Maybe it’s someone who lost a job or had some other sudden change, who may not qualify for general assistance, who just needs help filling an oil tank, or a partial mortgage payment, to get them through.”

On Monday, Elkins and Cox, joined about a dozen volunteers, along with others who came and went during the day, putting together Christmas baskets at St. Maximilian Kolbe Church on Black Point Road in Scarborough.

Spread out at 70 stations across the church’s rec room, wrapped presents piled up from Scarborough residents, businesses, school teams and clubs and church groups, each of whom had agreed to fill the “wish list” of an anonymous family, the only connection between them being a common hometown.

According to the organization’s board president, Alberta “Bert” Follansbee, all donors are given is the wish list and stats on their adopted family, including the total number of family members and the ages of any children.

“One time, I saw a request for toilet paper,” said Follansbee, stressing that the gifts are not particularly extravagant. Nobody’s getting a wide-screen TV, or a video game system. “For the most part, it’s just children who have a single toy they have their eye on, or a snowsuit or boots. We do like to fulfill wishes for toys, but, mostly, we take care of necessities.”

Project GRACE’s Christmas project actually predates the group’s foundation. It was born, says Follansbee, in a mothers’ group organized by Karen Packhem, who kept it going when she founded Project GRACE in 1997. Initially a part-time prospect, the nonprofit incorporated in 2002 with the stated mission to “improve the lives of our neighbors by identifying both those in need and those willing to share their gifts, and coordinating the interchange in a compassionate, confidential manner.”

Simply put, said Cox, its “neighbors helping neighbors.”

Last year, the group made $37,000 in heating fuel payments for Scarborough residents families, using private donations made to it and the town’s new fuel assistance program, which the organization will once again administer this year.

Some of this year’s need was undoubtedly due to another 10 percent reduction in Low-Income Heating Assistance Program dollars, along with a later-than-usual distribution of funds, says Elkins. Still, he’s confident that Project GRACE has the screening measures in place, as well as the counseling and educational resources to help people overcome their financial woes, to assure that no one is just getting free money from the group.

Even so, the four-month transition on executive directors this summer meant the cancellation of the group’s annual Trivia Bee fundraiser, while a perennial golf tournament that helps raise money saw its last round played last year.

With donor streams drying up even before a ride over the fiscal cliff, Cox says she knows that old-fashioned fundraising will become an increasing need, in addition to the organization’s traditional role of networking and making connections between the will and the want.

Still, could a certain measure of donor fatigue set in?

“We haven’t ever felt any of that,” said Follansbee. “People in this community have always been so wonderful, and so willing to give what they can, whether it’s money or, just as important, time. It’s almost impossible to count the number of people who pitch it at some point doing the year, for one thing or another.

“But then we haven’t ever pressed as hard as we could have,” said Follansbee. “And we may have to press more in the near future.”

Project GRACE volunteers Jane Hamilton and Randy Weisz arrange newly delivered gifts into position on Monday. The Scarborough-based nonprofit organization is experiencing an uptick in the need for its services.    
Sharon Quintiliani of Scarborough was one of many local residents who stopped by St. Maximilian Kolbe Church in spite of Monday’s storm to deliver bags of gifts.
Project GRACE volunteers Jane Ducott (foreground) and Jane Hamilton wrap donated gifts during Monday’s collection at St. Maximilian Kolbe Church in Scarborough.    
Project GRACE volunteer Randy Weisz brings another box-load of gifts into the staging area.
Jennifer Pulvino gets help unloading gifts from her car.


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