Women from all around Washington County joined forces with an anonymous donor to help a local single mother of two in need of a new heating system. The effort was organized by Brenda Gay of Whiting. When she posted a letter to the Washington County Mighty Women network list serve asking for help, she hoped to raise the additional $300 needed to install an $1,800 heater for a woman she had learned about through her work with the Labor of Love Nutrition Center and Food Pantry in Eastport. By the next morning she'd already heard back from a number of women making pledges to help.
"It was the best Christmas present ever. I felt like a little kid," she says. When Gay put out the call for help she wasn't sure what would happen, but reactions from the members of the county‑wide Mighty Women network to past calls for action made her hopeful.
The Mighty Women network was started by Machias‑based Axiom Technologies founder Susan Corbett in 2007 as a way to bring women from across the county together to learn about each other and the organizations that they represent. They've helped each other over the years, and in this case they were contributing towards a fund started by the Greater Eastport Ecumenical Churches Association (GEECA) for the single mother of two who needed that new primary heating unit. The fund was started with a generous donation of $1,500 for the new heater by an anonymous donor, but that $300 was still needed to meet the cost of $1,800. Enter women from all over the county. Two weeks later the Mighty Women had pledged at least $630. The overage will go towards fuel for the three‑member household's new heating system.
Colin Windhorst, president of the GEECA board of directors that oversees the Labor of Love center, explains how Gay learned of the situation. "Three weeks before Christmas I heard from someone who knows her [the single mother] and was concerned." The GEECA fuel fund usually has received $5,000 to $6,000 by November, but this year had received less than $1,000. "We'd reached the bottom of the barrel of the heat fund," he says when he got the call. He pledged that they'd do what needed to be done to make sure the single mother got some help.
With an ad and some publicity in The Quoddy Tides, the fuel fund received an additional $2,800, more than enough to set the mother of two up with a cord of wood for her wood stove. However, Windhorst knew that her primary heat source was no longer functional. "I kept thinking about that heater," Windhorst says. "I realized that something needed to be done," but there were not the funds to help. An area resident who has made annual end‑of‑year gifts to GEECA happened to come by. He heard about the single mother's plight, and a few days later Windhorst heard the good news that this year's donation would go towards the new heater's costs.
With the $630 that has come in so far as pledges from the Mighty Women and the $1,500 donation, the single mother will have her primary heater and some fuel to keep it running. The story is heart‑warming, both Gay and Windhorst say, and gives special meaning to the word community. "It's been very heartening, and I'm grateful to Brenda" for reaching out to the Mighty Women, Windhorst adds.
However, given the severity of the winter so far, Windhorst is concerned about all the others who are struggling to keep warm. "The heating fund is in desperate need every day," says Gay. The contributions to the general fuel fund through the end of December have reached $5,300, of which there is probably about $1,000 remaining, Windhorst notes. During the 2013 winter, the fuel fund received and distributed $15,000 worth of fuel to 62 households. He expects that the demand for the 2014 winter season will rise to about $17,000, given the rate of increased need he's seen over the years. Windhorst adds, "The intensity of the winter has put a strain on not just our resources but on all resources." He adds, "Many people are suffering from circumstances that are more than many of us could bear."
Donations to the fuel fund may be sent to: GEECA Fuel Fund, c/o Ann Pottle, Bangor Savings Bank, 54 Washington St., Eastport, ME 04631. Donations are tax deductible. For more information about the Mighty Women network, visit <www.mightywomen.org>.
For full disclosure, reporter Lora Whelan is a member of the Mighty Women network.