Project GRACE has raised $30,000, more than double what it usually gets, in its annual fundraiser for heating assistance, allowing it to “extend the fuel season into the cold and clammy spring,” the organization’s executive director said.

Economic hardships caused by the pandemic didn’t appear to translate into an escalated need for assistance, said Steffi Cox, executive director of Project Granting Resources and Assistance through Community Effort (Project GRACE), a local charity nonprofit that provides services, including heating assistance, to local residents who need them.

“Our need is steady. We’re not seeing a huge spike,” Cox said.

Cox said the organization began its fund drive in the fall, as usual, recording the $30,000 total on Feb. 27, 2021. Normally, she said, the group raises $10,000-$15,000.

Typically, she said, Project GRACE’s heating assistance comes through single deliveries of 100 gallons of fuel. In a typical winter season the organization gets about 65 requests for such deliveries, she said, and this year the volume of calls for help has been about the same.

Cox said she believes good fortune is part of the reason. The state Governor’s Energy Office shows that while heating oil prices did steadily rise starting in October 2020 through February 2021, average prices never went above $2.50 a gallon. A lack of a spike mid-winter, Cox said, helps keep heating homes affordable. She also noted a mild winter helped keep the pressure off.

“We lucked out,” she said.

Statewide data reflects a quieter winter this year as well. Nikki Busmanis, Maine program manager for 211 Maine, a program that provides access to services, including heating assistance, through the United Way of Maine, said calls to the 211 phone line for heating assistance rose to 8,600 in 2020, a 24% increase compared to 2019. Busmanis noted, however, that when reviewing the period of July through February alone, the program had a 38% decrease in calls for heating fuel payment assistance from July 2020-February 2021 compared to July 2019-February 2020.

Busmanis said she agreed with Cox’s reasons for the lower number of calls. She also noted that people are traveling less due to the pandemic, and many people are using their stimulus checks to pay bills such as heating and other utilities.

“I don’t think there’s less need for heat,” she said.

Busmanis also noted anecdotally that the program has received more calls from people reaching out for the first time than in a typical year, though she could not provide exact figures. She said many of those callers have experienced financial problems caused by the pandemic.

“Their world was rocked, and they needed to reach out but didn’t know where else to go,” she said.

Cox said the organization’s heating assistance program also offers weatherstripping and other materials to help people make their homes more heat-efficient.

“If they can’t put food on the table, they can’t afford weatherstripping or a can of caulk,” she said.

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