Fuel Your Love recipient Betty Wade (left) with M.W. Sewall Service Dispatcher Bonnie Toothaker after learning she had been chosen to receive a free tank of propane. John Terhune / The Times Record

First came the confusion.

Why had so many people shown up to Betty Wade’s porch when she was just due for a routine propane tank inspection? And who were those flowers for?

Next came the disbelief.

Free heating fuel? From whom? Are you sure you have the right house?

Finally, for Wade and the other beneficiaries of the Fuel Your Love campaign, the emotion hit.

“I can’t thank you enough,” said a choked-up Wade, who recently received a clean bill of health after a battle with throat cancer. “You’ve made my day.”


Fuel Your Love has been making days and spreading warmth around Valentine’s Day since the Maine Energy Marketers Association program launched the project seven years ago. This year, 10 heating supply companies are surprising select customers around the state with thousands of gallons of free heating fuel — a gift that goes a long way for some customers at a time when oil prices still sit far above historic norms.

“Some of these people have life events going on — illnesses and unexpected expenses,” said Mike Schroeder, marketing manager for participating brands Colby & Gale and M.W. Sewall. “When they hear that they’re getting their fuel tank filled for free, it’s one less thing they have to worry about.”

Schroeder was part of the M.W. Sewall team that brought fuel, flowers and chocolate to residents of Bath, West Bath and Arroswic Friday morning. The group surprised recipients, including a mix of longtime customers and others the company suspected could use a helping hand, with a free fill-up from “Cupid” — delivery driver Dan Carlton in a red jumpsuit.

While energy giants like Exxon Mobil have drawn criticism in recent years for raking in record profits while families struggle with high gas and oil prices, Maine’s locally owned fuel suppliers are built around serving the community, said Charlie Summers Jr., president and CEO of the Maine Energy Marketers Association. Delivery drivers and technicians often serve the towns they grew up in, and they take pride in keeping their neighbors safe during the harshest nights of the winter, he said.

“It’s kind of the same type of personal relationship that someone might have with their doctor,” he said. “If it’s Christmas Day, if it’s 2 o’clock in the morning when it’s 20 below outside, these are the folks you call. They show up, and without regard to the ability to pay, they make sure that someone is able to stay warm and have the fuel that they need to get them through those difficult times.”

Bath Area Food Bank Executive Director Kimberly Gates (center-left) stands with Ed Hughes, Bonnie Toothaker and Dan “Cupid” Carlton on Friday morning. John Terhune / The Times Record

That impact can ripple through other parts of the community. The Bath Area Food Bank, which like other food insecurity institutions has fought to keep up with growing need since the start of the pandemic, has relied on timely help from M.W. Sewall to keep its soup kitchen running during storms and cold snaps, said Kimberly Gates, the organization’s executive director.

“We’re grateful to M.W. Sewall for everything,” Gates said Friday after the food bank received a surprise delivery of propane. “They’re there for us, and they always have been.”

That appreciation, whether it comes in the form of a hug on Fuel Your Love delivery day or a thank-you email after a nasty storm, warms the heart of heating industry veterans.

“That’s what it’s all about,” M.W. Sewall Operations Manager Ed Hughes said after leaving Friday’s first recipient with a smile. “It’s a great feeling when you can make somebody’s day.”

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