Cold That Cuts to the Heart

A man's plea to an oil dealer for help heating his home in Dixfield, Me., led to some agonizing. Credit: Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times.
The picture is in a New York Times article about the fuel oil crisis in Maine and other cold states:

While federal officials try to wean the country from messy and expensive heating oil, Maine remains addicted. The housing stock is old, most communities are rural, and many residents cannot afford to switch to a cleaner heat source….

This wood-frame house, belonging to a retired man and his disabled wife, was built in the 19th century. They live on $1,200 a month, and so far this year they’ve received only $360 in heating assistance, about a quarter of last year’s allocation.

As part of the drive to cut spending, the Obama administration and Congress have trimmed the energy-assistance program that helps the poor — 65,000 households in Maine alone — to pay their heating bills. Eligibility is harder now, and the average amount given here is $483, down from $804 last year, all at a time when the price of oil has risen more than 40 cents in a year, to $3.71 a gallon.

The local fuel oil dealer has a failing business yet “does what he can. Unlike many oil companies, he makes small deliveries and waves off most service fees. He sets up elaborate payment plans, hoping that obligations don’t melt away with the spring thaw. He accepts postdated checks. And he takes his medication.”

So Mainers try to make do. They warm up in idling cars, then dash inside and dive under the covers. They pour a few gallons of kerosene into their oil tank and hope it lasts. And they count on others. Maybe their pastor. Maybe the delivery man. Maybe, even, a total stranger.

When the homeowner finally drove up with his ancient Lincoln, hoping to use it as collateral, the person in the fuel oil office at the time “remembered that someone had offered, quietly, to donate 50 gallons of heating oil if an emergency case walked through the door.”

She called that person and explained the situation. [The donor] answered without hesitation. Deliver the oil and I’ll pay for it, she said, which is one of the ways that Mainers make do in winter.

There is enough wealth on the planet that no one should be in need.

It only gets to the people who need it if we give it to them.

Blessèd be,

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