Central Maryland has experienced plenty of chilly nights in recent weeks but no real winter-time deep freeze. This is scant comfort for those who cannot afford to have electricity or heat in their houses, but it may be a reason why the Fuel Fund of Central Maryland has fallen about $75,000 behind the goal in its annual fund-raising. Donors, after all, want to be assured their contributions are needed. And nothing assures them more than real brrrr temperatures.
The irony is that while winters in Maryland have been mild in recent years, demand for the Fuel Fund has actually increased. Throughout the 1980s, the fund helped an average of 2,000 households a season. By last winter that number had more than doubled.
"We are really a last resort," executive director Ellen Lockard says of the fund, which started in Baltimore City in 1979 and became a Central Maryland organization three years later. Indeed, households in need are referred to the Fuel Fund by local social agencies only after all other avenues for help have been exhausted.
From Oct. 1 to March 31, the Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. and other utilities are restricted in turning off electricity or gas. Service cannot be turned off in households where there are children under 3 years old, disabled or sick people or elderly over 65. Service also cannot be cut off on days when the temperature falls below freezing. Despite such restrictions, growing numbers of people fall through the cracks.
"The need is up this year, not only because the economy is still struggling but also because the grants from the Maryland Energy Assistance Program are smaller," Ms. Lockard reported.
As in past the several years, the Fuel Fund's green-colored envelopes were sent to a million area utility customers with the December gas and electricity bills. The response was weaker than expected. "The economy has not turned around yet," explained Ms. Lockard. "Even though we see some positive indications in this area, people are still feeling the effects of reduced wages, unemployment and layoffs."
Yet the Fuel Fund needs money to help utility customers whose service will be cut off unless they pay their overdue bills by April. Any readers who wish to contribute to this worthwhile endeavor can do so by contacting the Fuel Fund of Central Maryland at 343 North Charles St., Baltimore, Md. 21201.