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Sue Bush
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$25K Fuel Fund Boost

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Friday, November 04, 2005

Mayor John Barrett III, Northern Berkshire United Way President John "Jack" Gould, and Northern Berkshire United Way Executive Director Robert Barton
North Adams – The Northern Berkshire United Way delivered the financial equivalent of a warm hug to the Northern Berkshire Community Action agency with a $25,000 donation to a recently-launched action center fuel assistance fund drive.

NBUW President John “Jack” Gould presented the donation to NBCA area director Marie Harpin during a Nov. 3 afternoon media conference at the office of city Mayor John Barrett III.

“I can’t thank you enough,” Harpin said. “I’m overcome. The ball in my stomach just left.”

The contribution came from the Northern Berkshire United Way’s reserve funds and will not impact the agency’s allocations to its’ member organizations, Gould said. The donation marks the second time that the non-profit entity has tapped its’ reserve funds, he noted.

Berkshire Community Action Agency Executive Director Donald Atwater and NBUW Executive Director Robert Barton joined Barrett, Gould and Harpin for the announcement.


Northern Berkshire Community Action Area Director Marie Harpin and Berkshire Community Action Executive Director Donald Atwater
Announcement of the NBCA fuel fund came on Oct. 24; Gould said that NBUW executive board members believed the fund was worthy of a significant contribution.

“The problem of the burden of increased fuel costs, we’ve all been aware of that since summer,” Gould said.

The organization's leadership “heard Marie’s plea,” and has also agreed to review the heating fuel situation in January, Gould said.

If the situation remains serious and Northern Berkshire resident need for fuel assistance remains high, the agency could consider offering additional assistance, Gould said.

The NBUW operates primarily as a funding source for member agencies. An annual agency fundraising campaign generates most of the funds allocated by the NBUW and the entity has not traditionally acted to meet an immediate community need, Gould said.

“We’ve broken that mold,” he said.

The Northern Berkshire action agency fuel fund goal is $100,000; with the Nov. 3 donation, the fund has generated about $27,000 in revenues. Barrett termed the NBUW donation “an enormous contribution.”

Working families whose earnings place them into lower income brackets and the region’s elderly residents are likely to face great financial hardships during the heating season, Barrett said.

“These are people that we really care about, the ones who slip between the cracks,” Barrett said.

Hoosac Bank officials have pledged to match customer contributions to the Northern Berkshire fuel fund up to $10,000, Barrett said. If the maximum match occurs, a $20,000 donation would be the result.

“If other banks will follow suit, we will get to our goal of $100,000,” Barrett said.

The NBCA operates as part of the Pittsfield-based Berkshire Community Action agency. Another agency office operates in Great Barrington. Fuel funds have been established for all three entities and revenues donated to the separate funds will be used to aid residents of each specific region.

The funds were created because of concerns that federal fuel assistance monies that fuel the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, commonly referred to as LIHEAP, will not meet the heating needs of Berkshire residents. A federal Fiscal year 2006 budget has not been approved, and just how much money will be allocated to LIHEAP is uncertain. The program is operating with revenues based on Fiscal Year 2005 funding levels as a “continuing resolution;” that resolution is set to expire on Nov. 18 if a federal budget is not in place.

Harpin and Atwater said that there is a substantial increase in new applicants seeking heating cost help, and noted that expectations are the federal heating assistance program will ultimately be funded at Fiscal Year 2005 levels.

Since fuel costs have jumped dramatically, level-funding means that revenues will purchase significantly less fuel than last year, Barrett said.

Contributions to the Northern Berkshire Community Action fuel assistance fund may be sent to Northern Berkshire Community Action, Att: Marie Harpin, 85 Main St., North Adams, MA 01247. Checks should be made payable to the NBCA and the “memo” section should designate the fuel fund as the donation’s beneficiary.

Information about the Central and Southern Berkshire fuel funds may be acquired by calling the Pittsfield BCA office at 413-445-4503.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.
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