Editor’s note: This is the next in a series of profiles of area residents helped by Rockingham Community Action and Community Action Partnership of Strafford County, which are beneficiaries of Seacoast Media Group’s annual Gift of Warmth fuel assistance fundraising program.
SOMERSWORTH — Sheila Ingram works as a caregiver, but she said she never expected there were people out there ready to help her when she needed it.
Ingram cares daily for another woman who is disabled. She got a nasty surprise when she called to have her furnace cleaned this year.
“They had told me in April that I really needed to think about a new furnace,” Ingram said. “It ran pretty rough last winter, but I managed to get through the season. I called in the fall to have it checked out and the man who came would not even touch it. I used it anyway for a few weeks because I needed to. Then it just died. It was so cold in here; my cats were sleeping on top of me to stay warm.”
Ingram’s sister suggested she see if there was help for her.
“I had no idea anyone would help, but I went to community action (Community Action Partners of Strafford County) and filled out the paperwork,” she said. “I was told it usually takes about five weeks, but they said considering my situation they would try to push it through faster. In 10 days, there was a man at my house to look at the furnace.”
The inspection revealed her furnace was really not safe to use. Ingram said there was a crack in the firewall.
“Even if someone were to try and jerry-rig it to use, it would be a fire hazard,” Ingram said. “Bob, the man who came, disconnected it so no one could even try to use it. Then they got me a new furnace. I was so grateful.”
“I was wrong,” she said. “They were so nice to me. They made me feel so comfortable. I did not feel in the least bit demeaned. They put themselves out for me. I had gone in thinking, well, either they will say yes or they will say no, but at least I tried. Now, I am so happy and I hope anyone who needs help will ask for it.”
Strafford County CAP is helping Ingram with fuel assistance and with her electric bill. Now she said she, the woman she cares for, and her three cats, will be warm this winter season.
“I can now use some of the money I was trying to save for this issue to get some much-needed dental work done,” Ingram said. “I was just going to have to let that go and hope for the best.”
Residential heating oil prices hovered around $2.30 per gallon this week in eastern New Hampshire, up from about $2.25 last week, according to NewEnglandOil.com. The cost to fill a 275-gallon tank would be $632.
The Gift of Warmth campaign serves area residents who do not meet guidelines of other fuel assistance programs that may not take into account factors such as illnesses, recent job losses, a broken furnace or heating sources such as kerosene or wood. Others may be slightly outside the strict income bracket of federal fuel assistance programs or receive a small amount of government assistance but not enough to get them through the winter.
The Gift of Warmth solicits donations from the public to provide extra funds to Rockingham Community Action and the Community Action Partnership of Strafford County. As part of the effort, several residents who receive assistance share their stories of how the Gift of Warmth helps them.
How to help
Tax-deductible donations can be made by sending a check for any amount to Seacoast Media Group c/o Gift of Warmth, 111 New Hampshire Ave., Portsmouth, NH 03801. Please include which organization the donation is intended for: Rockingham Community Action or Community Action Partnership of Strafford County.
To apply for fuel assistance, call RCA at 431-2911. People experiencing any significant hardship and financial crisis can also call the number and they will be referred to the appropriate person. The main office is at 4 Cutts St. in Portsmouth. For more information, visit www.snhs.org.
For CAP of Strafford County, visit www.straffordcap.org or call 435-2500. The Dover office is at 61 Locust St. The Farmington office is at 527 Main St. and its phone number is 460-4313.
Pastor Patty Marsden of the Newmarket Community Church at 137 Main St. offered RCA space at the church each Wednesday to take fuel assistance applications from local residents, especially the elderly and families without transportation so they don’t have to travel to RCA’s Exeter or Portsmouth locations to apply. Appointments must be made by calling RCA’s Portsmouth office at (603) 436-3896. A flier with program guidelines will be sent separately.