According to Susan Spengler, of the heating fuel assistance organization Deerfield Valley Community Cares, the nearly two-week-long cold snap that spanned the end of 2017 and beginning of 2018 resulted in some of the earliest calls for help the organization has ever had.
“From four or five days before Christmas to just after the New Year we had a lot of people running out of fuel before they had anticipated,” Spengler said. “During that time we spent about $15,000. One woman said she didn’t understand how she ran out of fuel because she never turns the thermostat up over 60 degrees. Well, she was burning a lot more fuel to keep it at 60 than she usually does.”
During the peak period, Spengler said, she was coming home from work to find several calls for help every day, and the organization spent $1,000 or more per day.
Spengler says there’s no such thing as a typical year for DVCC. The need for fuel assistance in the valley varies not only by weather, but also by the valley’s economy.
“Some years we spend $60,000, and some year’s it’s $90,000. It not only depends on the weather, but also on how much work is available in the valley. If the season isn’t good and people’s second or third job doesn’t pan out, they have less money. It also depends on fuel prices. This year is not as expensive as other years, but people are burning through it a lot faster.”
Spengler said the failure of some fuel companies to compensate for temperatures and increase the frequency of their automatic deliveries, in some cases, compounded costs for those who can afford it the least. “A lot of the companies aren’t good about stepping up automated deliveries,” she said. “Depending on your heating system, when you run out of fuel, someone has to come out and restart it. That incurs an extra charge. And if you need an emergency delivery on a weekend or holiday, that’s an extra charge. So the problem of running out of fuel ends up being much more expensive.”
The need for DVCC’s help has returned to normal levels now, Spengler said, but some of the season’s coldest weather may still be ahead.
“It has warmed up and fuel companies seem to have a better grip on deliveries, but it remains to be seen what the rest of the winter will be like,” she said. “That cold snap caused us to spend more money earlier in the year than usual. Normally people get in trouble around the beginning of February or March. They’ve been able to pay for fuel deliveries, but as the winter goes on the fuel deliveries keep coming and they haven’t quite paid off the last one when the next one comes, and they get behind.”
While DVCC’s goal is to help people only once during the season, Spengler says this year’s circumstances may mean people need more help. “We’re not in the business of keeping people afloat,” she says, “but if we have a similar occurrence in February or March as we usually do, we’ll certainly have instances where people need to be helped more than once. We’ve never had as much need before Christmas as this.”
To make a donation to Deerfield Valley Community Cares send checks to DVCC, P.O. Box 5, Wilmington, VT 05363.