Founded by Spengler in 2004, DVCC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit offering heating assistance to residents of the Deerfield Valley region who “fall through the cracks” of government assistance, making too much to qualify for government help but not quite enough to cover their heating costs during times of vulnerability. Most of DVCC’s clients are working families and elderly residents of the valley. “We want to help people in the valley who are working and need a little help,” says Spengler. “We work with people on a temporary basis, not month-to-month.”
DVCC has geared itself toward families in the Deerfield Valley region who, due to medical, family, and financial emergencies, cannot come up with the necessary funds to pay their heating bills on time during the winter. Upon receiving requests from individuals or, more commonly, referrals from pastors, neighbors, and teachers, DVCC works with several fuel companies to step in during emergencies. Receiving help from DVCC requires no application process, no paperwork, and no trips to social service agencies.
According to Spengler, “You pick up the phone and call and ask for it.” She says that one of DVCC’s goals is to help people avoid the “embarrassing ritual” of applying for government fuel assistance, often an involved and lengthy process. “A lot of people in the valley are too proud to ask for help. They’ll just sit in their home and freeze.”
According to a letter released to The Deerfield Valley News by Spengler and her colleagues Carolyn DiLeo and Ginny Kuhnert in April, this winter the DVCC provided heating assistance to 98 families in the Deerfield Valley region, with total assistance costs adding up to $88,875.53.
Residents of Wilmington, Dover, Wardsboro, Marlboro, Jacksonville, Whitingham, Halifax, Readsboro, and Searsburg all called on the organization for help at some point during the winter. DVCC funding stems primarily from donations and fundraising events, most notably the annual “Best Dam Walk in Vermont,” an annual garden party, and calendar sales. DVCC also receives a small portion of their funds from town treasuries.
“When I get home from work in the winter there are usually eight to 10 messages on my machine,” says Spengler. “Every phone call has to be returned, and then we have to make arrangements with people’s fuel companies.” According to Spengler, DVCC works regularly with about 11 fuel companies in the region, only three of which have reserves specifically set aside for dispersal to DVCC clients. Every request for assistance that arrives on Spengler’s answering machine triggers a series of phone calls, check-writing, and occasionally hurried drives to area fuel companies to secure deliveries. “Once the heating season starts, I spend two hours a night on the phone helping people get fuel.”
Spengler says that the growth of DVCC and the accompanying increased demands of fundraising prompted her decision to leave the organization. As yet, no new director has been chosen to head DVCC, but Spengler hopes that in the next six months to a year that will change.
“It has become a lot bigger than it was when it started. It’s too difficult for one or two people to do all the work.” Spengler also pointed to fluctuating numbers of board members as a challenging circumstance.
She hopes that whoever steps up to take over the work of DVCC will be a local rooted to the Deerfield Valley community. “It has to be a local person,” she says. “It’s almost a requirement.” As an organization that actively avoids bureaucratic facelessness, DVCC relies on personal references not only in finding clients, but in weeding out those who do not match the organization’s criteria. Spengler says that having a rooted local as director is integral to this process.
Spengler plans to stay on as director at least for the next six months, if not the next year, until she can find a suitable replacement. “There are a lot of people who would hate to see this fund go out of business,” she says. “Ten years is a long time, and it’s time for someone else to step up.”