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Operation Fuel Assists Struggling Households

Brrrr! It's cold outside! And for some of us, it's cold inside, too. For those who cannot afford their heating or utility bills, this has been a particularly difficult winter.

For some households, especially those on fixed incomes, trying to keep up with monthly utility bills can be a monumental task. If a household falls behind in its electrical or gas bills during the winter months, their utilities won't be shut off until spring, but come May 1st, they can be. Fuel oil companies can refuse to deliver if there is a back balance due — even in winter.

Operation Fuel , an independent statewide program funded mostly by private sources, provides emergency energy assistance to the elderly, disabled and low-income working poor families who cannot pay their fuel and utility bills.

While there are federal funds to assist with winter heating bills, this is a finite amount and doesn't always cover the requests for help. Furthermore, there are no federal programs to assist struggling households in the summer months if utilities have been terminated. Operation Fuel can help in both instances.

The executive director of Operation Fuel, Patricia Wrice, and a representative from Greenwich's Social Service Department , recently met with local legislators to explain how the program operates. While I had vaguely heard of the program, I did not understand how it worked or whom it helped.

Operation Fuel raises some of its charitable funds through the add-a-dollar check off box on utility bills. By law, you can add any amount to your utility bills, but a dollar from even 10,000 households is $10,000 and, times 12 months, adds up and goes a long way. The good news is 100% of these funds will be used to help qualifying low-income households pay their utility bills. None is withheld for administrative costs. The better news is, all checked funds receive a 50% match from Northeast Utilities and United Illuminating , stretching your donation even further.

Last year, Operation Fuel raised and distributed $516,000 to needy households through the Add a Dollar program. During the 2009-2010 heating season, Operation Fuel served close to 7,000 low-income households in Connecticut. More than 1,500 of those households were in Fairfield County and 46 were in Greenwich.

I was encouraged to learn about this efficient way to fund-raise and to help deserving households pay their utility bills. I'm now checking the box on my utility bills for Operation Fuel.

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