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A helping hand for those in need
DIXFIELD- The phones are ringing off the hook, the mail receptacle is overflowing, employees and volunteers take a minute to stand or sit to take a few bites of their lunch and to wipe a stray tear from their eye while Ike Libby and Gene Ellis hunker down in their upstairs offices to read more letters. In the last week the small oil delivery office has been inundated with an outpouring of love and concern from all over the world.
The outpouring is by way of checks, credit card promises and cash ranging anywhere from the change in someone's pocket to the most recent check written for $10,000. All to help out customers who are in dire need of oil to keep their homes and families from freezing.
For more than 20 years Ike Libby has been behind the wheel of an oil delivery truck, tromping through knee-high snow and creeping across the ice-covered ground, waking at two in the morning to the distressed call of local residents who are on the verge of freezing.
“I said yes for a long time,” noted Libby. “But, it comes to a point when you just can't do it anymore.”
Over the past week, it would be hard to imagine that someone, anyone hasn't heard of the world-wide coverage of Hometown Energy. Having to refuse one elderly customer put things in motion for blessings abound for hundreds and eventually even thousands of people who struggle to pay their fuel bills.
“We've had checks and phone calls coming from all over the world,” noted Diane Carlton, front desk clerk. “Hawaii, Bermuda, Great Britain and all over the United States. We even had a brother of a soldier in Afghanistan call to tell us that his brother wanted to make a donation from the other side of the world. We haven't had a dry-eye moment in a week. It's been a wild ride.”
Just Thursday, a volunteer in the office received a phone call from a lady in New Jersey offering to help out someone who had a back bill and truly needed the assistance. “She paid off over $500 in oil and then told us she wanted to fill the tank,” shared Carlton. “That's 250 gallons. In dollars, that's $920. Another man was telling us he thought he might do this on a yearly basis. People really want to help.”
As a daily occurrence, the office has been receiving phone calls from the post office asking them to please come clean out the box due to the amount of mail pouring in. “Ike and Gene are reading every piece of mail,” shared Carlton. “They are so overwhelmed with the kindness right now. They go upstairs to their offices and that's where they hide until the mail is done.”
One man even sent money with a note that specified the extra “was to keep Ike in Tums.” Even Dirigo High School took up a collection during a basketball game with the funds being turned over to Hometown Energy.
In speaking with Libby, his heart still lies with the Hartford's of Peru, the retired couple he had to refuse delivery to over a week ago. “Mrs. Hartford is in a wheelchair and can't get out of the house. She's trapped. I am willing to supply materials for anyone who is willing to build her a ramp.” Libby also noted that the Hartford's are in need of a handicap-accessible bath. “It would be nice to have our local communities step up to volunteer their time. The rest of the world is offering their money.”
Libby has very strong views on the fuel assistance programs of the state and noted that Community Concepts had called and requested all the donations be administered through their offices. Libby would have no part of that. “I told them no way. I told them their programs are corrupt and this money is going to go to people who need and deserve it. We'll deal with it as it comes in and we'll put it where it needs to go.”
As of last Friday, Hometown Energy estimated the total of the donations was going to exceed $200,000. Libby noted, “Every donation has a letter and unless it specifies that it's for our business, it goes to the fund. I will not use others' generosity to clear our books.”
A trust fund is being set up in order to offer assistance to Hometown Energy customers who find themselves in need. “I can tell you right now,” noted Libby. “If you have four snowmobiles in your yard and you think you're going to call us for help, you're mistaken. This fund will be for those people truly struggling.”
Libby, fighting back the tears, noted, “The day before all of this started, I was coming back from a delivery in Carthage and saw something on the side of the road. I thought it looked like money and backed up the truck. Sure enough I bent over and it was a dollar all wet and had been run over. I brought it to the office and told Diane (Carlton), 'This is our lucky dollar. You wait.' And then, the next day all of this happened.”
Libby would like to see more government time and money spent helping citizens weatherize their homes. “The real solution is not to just keep spending money. All they're doing is subsidizing the big guys.”
If you wish to donate to the heating assistance fund through Hometown Energy, visit www.hometownenergymaine.com and use their Pay Pal account or you can send your donation made payable to Hometown Energy, P.O. Box 485, Dixfield, 04224.