Individuals, nonprofits and elected officials are racing to help Midcoast residents struggling to cover heating bills this winter.

“It’s upfront and personal right now,” retired Brunswick business owner Michael Strange said of the cold weather. “I think (for) a lot of people … you heat or you eat; you don’t do both.”

Strange hopes to create a nonprofit wood bank in Brunswick, which would provide low-income residents with free firewood to heat their homes.

He was inspired by the Woodchucks, a group of volunteers in the Boothbay region who have been collecting, splitting and seasoning firewood for their neighbors in need for 15 years.

Like similar programs in other parts of the state, the Woodchucks have grown in recent years as energy prices have climbed. Last year, the group collected over 55 cords of donated wood (worth nearly $20,000, according to the Governor’s Energy Office) and served about 35 area households.

“We don’t want nobody to get cold,” Woodchuck leader Billy Smith said. “We see too much of it in this world.”


Heating oil prices across Maine averaged $4.53 per gallon as of Dec. 19, according to the Governor’s Energy Office. While this figure represents a drop from record prices of more than $5.70 in May and November, it still sits 44% higher than the average heating oil price a year ago and 144% higher than the price in December 2020.

The potentially deadly consequences of high heating costs have prompted advocates to lobby lawmakers for aid.

“Fears about both navigating and, in some cases, surviving this year’s heating season are part of almost every interaction that we have,” read testimony Bath Housing Executive Director Deb Keller submitted to the Legislature ahead of a public hearing last week. “We meet homeowners who are confident that many older adults will freeze to death in their homes this winter, homeowners who have already run out of fuel and have not known where to turn, homeowners who are panicked about the impossibility of increased fuel costs on fixed incomes, homeowners who are already receiving heating assistance but finding that this year they cannot cover the remainder of the costs, and homeowners who have never before accessed any kind of public benefits but know that they now need to find some kind of support just to make it through this heating season.”

Last week, L.D. 3 — an emergency heating bill that would provide $450 checks for qualifying taxpayers, $50 million for heating programs and $21 million for emergency housing and shelter programs — cleared committee in Augusta, setting up its likely passage when the Legislature returns to session in January.

A separate piece of legislation proposed by Brunswick Town Councilor and Maine Rep. Dan Ankeles would, if passed, allow towns to seek reimbursement from the state for funds spent providing additional heating and housing aid to residents in need this winter.

“Towns shouldn’t be punished for doing the morally right thing,” Ankeles said. “They’re often the front lines/last resort for people.


Brunswick town staff are currently working to form a partnership with local groups to fund extended hours at The Gathering Place, which offers a warm space to all who need one, Economic Development Director Sally Costello reported at last week’s Town Council meeting.

Yet due to liability and insurance concerns, Strange said, the town has not been able to offer him a space for his proposed wood bank. Until he secures a hard surface in an accessible location, like the town’s former Naval Air Base, he can’t set up his nonprofit.

After failing for a month to find a spot, Strange is losing hope that he will be able to get the program running in time to help residents this winter. Yet he promised he’s just getting warmed up.

“I’m not gonna give up,” said Strange, who is seeking tips from individuals or businesses that may want to partner with him. “It would be pretty easy to just walk away, but I don’t think that’s right.”

Strange can be reached at 751-7196.

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