Fuel Aid Program Helps Curwensville Area Residents Through Tough Winter Season

CURWENSVILLE – Winter is a tough season for many people for different reasons. Some people have illnesses made worse by cold. Shortened days affect mood.

And for some people, it brings the dread of another season of juggling bills to heat their homes.

Unfortunately for many, the struggle becomes desperate when they realize there’s more winter season than money, especially with rising oil prices.

A ministry for those in the Curwensville Area School District is working to help ease that struggle just a little bit.

The Fuel Aid program began as an inspiration of one man who then brought his idea to others and it grew eventually to help many over the past 11 years.

The ministry is Fuel Aid, administered by the Curwensville Ministerium Association. And it all started at Curwensville Days.

Mark Sopic gave a little of the history of the program.  He explained that he was at Curwensville Days and was listening to Pastor George Cannon talk about the ministerium.

The ministerium is an organization comprised of most of the Curwensville churches: First Baptist, the Alliance, United Methodist, St. Timothy Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Curwensville Christian and Faith Bible of Lumber City.

As Sopic listened to Cannon, who talked about the different charities the ministerium tries to help, he realized that one need that could really use a boost was fuel assistance. Cannon was encouraging people to help with that.

“I thought I could help raise awareness,” Sopic said. He knows a lot of musicians and thought of putting together a concert, similar to Willie Nelson’s Farm Aid. He talked to Cannon and they got the ball rolling.

The first concert was at the Curwensville Area High School auditorium, but since then concerts have moved to Curwensville Christian Church, where Cannon is pastor.

Cannon explained that the program assists people with their heating. He said they have put into place a number of guidelines for the program in order to be good stewards of the money.

First, people need to apply for help with the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, also known as LIHEAP, which is administered by the Department of Human Services, formerly the Department of Public Welfare.

If the individual or family qualifies, they are encouraged to use that funding first. After that, if there is still need, they can contact the ministerium and go from there.

Usually the help consists of a minimum delivery of fuel, usually about 150 gallons, or three tons of soft coal or help with an electric or gas bill. He said they will not pay a bill with back payments, only the amount of a regular bill.

Additionally, they must be a resident of the Curwensville Area School District or a regular attendee of one of the churches. He said they can approach their pastor first, or if they do not attend one of the churches, call Pastor Cannon directly at the church, 814-236-1622.

The ministerium knows that the restrictions and limits frustrate people, but he said they had to find a way to help as many as they could with the limited means. And Sopic added that the ministerium has been a good steward of those funds.

On average, Cannon said they can help about 40-60 families each winter, beginning in November and running until May. In the first 10 years, a quarter of a million dollars has been given, allowing them to give families one month of grace in heating fuel.

“Local programs like ours are very important,” Cannon said. He referred to changing amounts available to the LIHEAP programs from the federal and state budgets, and the changes in standards of who qualifies. He said it is vital that communities step up and help their own and added that Curwensville has stepped up in the past. 

Drayer Physical Therapy has stepped in and sponsored a 5K race in past years to help raise money for the program.

Other organizations that have raised and donated money include the churches, civic groups, such as the Rotary, Curwensville Days Committee, Grampian Lions Club, Curwensville Women’s Club and Business and Professional Women’s Club and businesses, including South Side Subs, Goodman’s Foodliner and the Chester C. Chidboy Funeral Home, just to name a few.

“This is a community effort,” Cannon said.

Sopic added that he is looking for ways to change up the concert idea, perhaps holding other events during the year and finding ways to make it more interesting.

He said he hopes they can continue to fund the program, adding that it is amazing the number of people who qualify for LIHEAP as well as the number of people who are just out of LIHEAP’s income guidelines but still need help.

“Helping … that’s a good thing in my mind,” Sopic said. The Fuel Aid program accepts donations year-around, not just from the concert and other special events.

Cannon said the ministerium incorporated as a 501(c)3 non-profit in order to more effectively administer the funds, therefore, donations are tax-deductible.

Checks can be sent to Curwensville Ministerial Association, P.O. Box 51, Curwensville, PA 16833. Donations can come from anywhere, not just the Curwensville area.

“I think it’s a reflection of the character of our community,” Cannon has said in the past. “We care.”

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