Photo: Erin Cox, Sun Media Wire
DONATIONS — Ike Libby, right, stands with his wife, Shirley, center, and friend Nancy Carpenter, left, as Janis Carlton sits behind the desk at Hometown Energy fielding calls about donations for heating assistance. The company was flooded with calls from around the nation after an article in the New York Times featured the business and a struggling Maine couple.
REGION — People in desperate need of home heating this winter are getting their prayers answered, as one local energy company generously delivers 100 gallons to their tanks.
"There's a lot of people out there, especially in the [western] foothills, where the income is not that great," says Ike Libby, co-owner of Hometown Energy, LLC in Dixfield.
Since September, Libby said, Hometown Energy has helped more than 100 people heat their homes and has spent thousands of dollars from an account set up to help people heat their homes this winter and hopefully years to come.
Libby said the company has been assisting other local oil companies with deliveries to their customers, but is not out to steal business from those companies.
The goal is to help people keep warm, he said – people who simply cannot afford to do it alone.
According to Libby, to fill an empty tank now – at about $3.65 per gallon – costs between $800 and $900.
"Sometimes that's people's entire income," Libby said. "It's ridiculous."
Libby said just this past November, before winter fully set in, Hometown Energy helped 32 customers by delivering 100 gallons of oil to their tanks using donations the company received last year.
Last month, in order to help a disabled veteran in Poland get the help he needed, Hometown Energy had to break its guidelines, Libby said.
"We have guidelines on where we deliver the oil and we just made an exception to those guidelines," said Libby.
Because of the immediate need, Hometown Energy ended up having 100 gallons of oil delivered to the veteran through another company – Fielding's Oil and Propane Co. of Auburn – and footed the bill.
"What we did was, we gave all [his] information to Fielding's Oil ... and they took care of the guy."
Last winter, because of the high cost of oil, people were finding it difficult to heat their homes, explained Libby – one elderly couple was even willing to sign over the title of their vehicle in trade for an oil delivery.
According to Libby, Hometown Energy had to turn the couple down because they had already owed the company $700 for two earlier deliveries. At the time, oil averaged $3.80 a gallon.
Libby was forced to make a difficult decision: refuse to help and save the business or help the disabled couple by generously filling their tank.
According to reports, the couple, Wilma and Robert Hartford from Peru, had been heating their home with their electric stove and had only been receiving $360 for fuel assistance – about a quarter of the previous year's allocation – on a fixed income of $1,200 a month.
To help, Hometown Energy and Dewitt Kimball of Complete Home Evaluation Services of Brunswick ultimately weatherized the couple's home and upgraded the heating system to make it more energy-efficient, Libby said.
"They reduced the air-leakage by more than 60 percent (still allowing for adequate ventilation), and added high-performance insulation throughout," Libby wrote in Bangor Daily News article last March.
"I have a new perspective now. The high cost of heating fuel is strangling Maine’s economy and energy efficiency is the solution," he said. "I can’t fill all the oil tanks for free and if my customers can’t afford to buy fuel, my business doesn't work."
Libby said he couldn't stand to watch people freeze, so he had to do something. Unlike many oil companies, Hometown Energy was even making small deliveries and waiving service fees to help people with oil.
"We had to change our policy," Libby explained. "I about ran the business into the ground," as a result of making exceptions to fill people's tanks, Libby admitted.
In response to a news article in the New York Times last winter which features Hometown Energy and Mainers struggling to heat their homes during difficult times, the company received nearly a quarter of a million dollars from donors across America offering to help out with heating expenses.
"We are down to [around $80,000]," Libby said, of the fund. "We helped out a lot of people last year also."
"Most can't afford to buy oil at all ... so we are putting 100 gallons in and it's tying them over for as long as 100 gallons will last at their house," Libby explained.
So was the case for an elderly man in Poland earlier this winter, who couldn't afford to pay his fuel bill, Libby said.
According to Libby, a lady had called the company in tears in early December begging them to help the disabled veteran heat his home.
"She was taking care of him; I guess he was ill," Libby said.
"It's sad," he said, softhearted.
"We can't ignore something like that. We had to step in."
To donate to the trust fund set up to help those in need of heating oil, contact Hometown Energy at 562-8822 or mail checks to Hometown Energy at P.O. Box 485, Dixfield, ME 04224. You can also donate through PayPal at www.hometownenergymaine.com.