Members of the community rallied at the Oak Hill Fire Station to raise money for Project G.R.A.C.E.’s fuel fund at a prior event. Over the last decade, the fund has helped more than 400 people heat their homes. Courtesy / Project G.R.A.C.E.

SCARBOROUGH — Volunteers at Project G.R.A.C.E (Granting Resources and Assistance through Community Efforts) have found over the years when the temperature starts to drop, donations from the community for fuel assistance begin to heat up.

Last weekend, the volunteer-powered organization, which helps those in need pay for food, fuel and school supplies and other necessities, held its eighth annual Keep Your Neighbors Warm Fuel Rally at the Oak Hill Fire Station. The event is Project G.R.A.C.E.’s largest fuel fundraiser of the year.

“It doesn’t matter what the weather is doing or the price of fuel oil, when you don’t have money for your medicine or food it is difficult to put oil in your fuel tank,” said Project G.R.A.C.E. Executive Director Steffi Cox. “We are grateful we have people in the community who have a little extra who understand that, are compassionate and show up at the rally. It really is a spirited event.”

Members of the Scarborough Kiwanis group gave $800 to this year’s fuel rally. In total, more than $15,800 was raised during the two-hour event. Courtesy / Project GRACE

The event, as of early this week, brought in more than $15,800, plus an additional $2,500 from local business owner Eddie Woodin as part of his annual challenge. Cox said while Project G.R.A.C.E. got large donations from Woodin and others, the bulk of the donations were in the more modest range of $10, $20 or $50.

“It was a great event. During the rally we exceeded $17,000. Often times we are in that $8,000 to $9,000 range. There was something special about this year. People were compassionate and people just want to help out and give back,” said Woodin, a Scarborough resident and owner of Woodin & Company Store Fixtures, Inc.

Project G.R.A.C.E. board president Alberta “Bert” Follansbee said the organization’s fuel assistance efforts date back to at least 2002, when the program was officially established. A decade later, the need for a dedicated fundraiser for the cause emerged.

“The fuel rally came at a point of crisis,” she said. “We were spending a lot on fuel oil.”

Cox said in 2012, the year before the first fuel rally was held, Project GRACE spent close to $45,000 on fuel assistance.

“We dipped into our savings to meet the need and decided we had to call attention to our fuel assistance fund if we are going to continue to answer those calls,” Cox said.

Cox said since 2011, $182,000 has been spent on fuel assistance for more than 440 people. On average, she said, the organization provides fuel assistance to community members 60 to 65 times a year, with close to 90% only needing fuel assistance once a season. As of mid-January, Project G.R.A.C.E. has spent $7,195 in fuel expenses so far this fall/winter.

“The rally really helps to cover the fuel bills for us,” Cox said.

The fuel assistance fund doesn’t just provide money for families to fill their fuel tanks. Around $12,500 has been spent over the last four or five years has been spent on weatherization projects.

“We would like to help more homeowners be able to shore up their drafty homes,” Cox said.

Follansbee said the event is more than just raising money. It is about bringing residents together and includes participation from many groups, such as the town’s public safety department, community services, Scarborough Public Library, Scarborough Historical Society, Scarborough Garden Club, Scarborough Audubon Marsh Center, town officials, Girl Scouts and members of the Kiwanis, Lions and Rotary clubs.

The fundraising effort for fuel assistance and weatherization doesn’t end with the rally. Proceeds from Nonesuch River Brewery’s Lunch for Good program (Monday through Friday 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.) will go to Project G.R.A.C.E. now through the end of February and donations are still being accepted through the organization’s website at projectgracemaine.weebly.com.

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