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The United Way of Lackawanna and Wayne Counties is once again administering a holiday program to assist regional people who are financially unable to heat their homes.

The effort, called The Gift of Warmth, allows both businesses and individuals to donate to a United Way emergency fuel fund. This fills in the gaps left behind by the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), a federally-funded grant effort for low-income households that also helps pay for home heating fuel.

Gary Drapek, president and CEO of the United Way of Lackawanna and Wayne Counties, explains that participation in The Gift of Warmth involves the purchase of pledge cards that go inside holiday greetings. These cards inform the purchaser that a donation was made in their name to help with heating costs for the needy.

“Both personal and corporate versions of the cards are available,” says Drapek.
The Salvation Army of Scranton is once again serving as an administrator of The Gift of Warmth in Lackawanna County. Margie Stair, director of case work, at the Salvation Army explains that recipients of the assistance must not be receiving LIHEAP.

She forecasts that a minimum buy of 150 gallons of fuel oil during the upcoming winter could easily exceed $600, because fuel prices are likely to top last winter’s totals. Recipients of Gift of Warmth assistance should expect to add a $50 co-pay, and only one Gift of Warmth buy per client, per winter, is allowed.
The application process for Gift of Warmth starts with a telephone interview with an administrator, such as the Salvation Army. The prospective client must have one-quarter tank or less of fuel at their residence.
“After the application is completed, we call LIHEAP and the client’s preferred vendor to establish true need,” explains Stair.

During the winter of 2011-2012, Stair’s agency participated in Gift of Warmth payouts of $60,000 from the United Way, which was assisted by $20,000 from Children and Youth Services. During the upcoming winter, Stair expects more than 100 inquiries to be generated, some of which will emanate from middle class families that are experiencing increasing bouts of financial trouble.

Stair is firm in her commentary about how the private sector can provide care and help to provide heat for the needy. “The person needing help could be your brother, and if we don’t help them, they could freeze to death,” says Stair. “God requires us to care.”

Retired care-giver

Daniel Coleman, 65, a disabled Army veteran who resides in Carbondale, participated in active military service from 1965 to 1968. He is now retired, and suffers from chronic back pain while caring for his epileptic and diabetic wife.

The Coleman’s own a trailer, and have participated in The Gift of Warmth for several years as they battle both winter’s chill and incessantly cold floors. They heat the structure with propane, and agree that the Gift of Warmth has been crucial as they attempt to make ends meet.

“I didn’t really want to go to an agency and receive the heating assistance, but we must deal with our low income, and I don’t know what we’d do without the Gift of Warmth program,” says Coleman. “I can’t express my gratitude for all of e aware that there are so many needy and fearful people out there.”

Mike Cipilewski, case manager of the rural permanent supportive housing program with Catholic Social Services in Wayne and Susquehanna Counties, also administers The Gift of Warmth.
He believes that heating oil minimum buys in his region will soon easily total $400 to $500.

During the mild winter of 2012, his agency had a Gift of Warmth average payout of $250, with a high of $400. This spanned 45 cases, as 121 people were warmed by the fuel purchases.

Cipilewski expects the 2013 version of The Gift of Warmth to experience a measurable increase in the number of cases to 60, thereby helping 200 people to stay warm.

“The recent loss of the state cash assistance program must be figured in, and this could bump up the number of people needing help even further,” warns Cipilewski.

Chilly February?

A series of wildcards come into play when attempting to estimate the need for help with regional heating needs during the upcoming winter. Accuweather is predicting that temperatures may start out slightly above to near normal, but as the season progresses residents should expect a colder-than-normal February, kindling a busy month for The Gift of Warmth.

Global crude oil prices are another issue. During mid-July crude oil sold for approximately $85 a barrel, but topped $99 during mid-September. The 52-week price range per barrel experienced a roller coaster ride from $77 to $109.

Analysts also fear military action against Iran’s nuclear program could blow the price of crude sky high. According to, during January 2011, Iran still had an estimated 137 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, which represented 9.3 percent of the world’s total reserves. This made Iran the second largest producer in OPEC, trailing only Saudi Arabia.