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iBerkshires.com Columnist Section

Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Tired, Happy “Elves”

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Friday, December 23, 2005

Marie Harpin, area director of the Northern Berkshire Community Action office in North Adams.
North Adams – It was noontime Dec. 23, and the Northern Berkshire Community Action office was trying to close, but the telephone kept ringing.

The "Good" Kind of Tired

NBCA Area Director Marie Harpin was alone in the office. Harpin answered call after call, fielded one question after another, and finally, as the phone fell silent, she sat down in a chair.

“I’m tired,” she said. “But it’s the good kind of tired, the kind of tired you get when something’s been accomplished.”

The accomplishment is a happier holiday for about 900 Northern Berkshire children who will receive wrapped, age-appropriate gifts thanks to the NBCA Elf program and the very large hearts of area businesses and community residents.

So Much Giving

As Harpin waited at the office for the last few folks to retrieve holiday bundles destined for their children, she talked about the past two months: the donations, the wrapping, the Elf program sign-ups, and the days of gift pick-up at 85 Main St..

“We do Thanksgiving [food baskets], a [Rotary Club sponsored] Christmas party, and the Elf program,” she said. “So no wonder I’m tired. But this community is just so wonderful. There is so much giving. It goes on and on. The banks, the businesses, the community residents, all doing, doing, doing. The Catholic communities [churches in North Adams, Adams and Cheshire] sponsored about 500 kids this year. The hospital and the Williamstown Medical Center, they gave. Inland Management took 40 children and gave me a check for $3,400.”

And a group of Drury High School Class of 2006 students taught by Patrick Boulger collected about $500 and provided gifts for two families, Harpin said.

“So there you go, high school kids get into this,” she said.

The application process for gift bundles began on Oct. 1 and ended on Dec.7, but as happens nearly every year, the program did provide gift assistance for many families who faced financial difficulties after the deadline had passed.

About 200 families were helped by Thanksgiving food baskets.

More Fuel Help Available

Meanwhile, a NBCA initiated fuel assistance fund drive announced in October and meant to raise revenues destined to assist Northern Berkshire families continues to generate strong contributions, Harpin said. Included among the contributions is a $5,000 donation from the Adams Co-Operative Bank, she said.

Similar fuel fund campaigns are underway in the Central and Southern Berkshires.

In early November, Northern Berkshire United Way President John “Jack” Gould presented the Northern Berkshire fuel fund with a $25,000 contribution and officials of the Hoosac Bank announced that they would match customer contributions to the fund up to $10,000.

Many private donations are arriving, Harpin said.

“There’s $20 here, $25 there, and every bit of it helps,” she said. “The list goes on and on. This community is really helping the have-nots.”

Most families who rely on Section 8 rent subsidies and pay for their own heating bills received $400 in fuel assistance via the federal LIHEAP program for the current heating season.

“And most of them have run out of that money already,” Harpin said.

The local fuel fund will help those families as well as other families in need, she said.

Families and individuals whose incomes surpassed LIHEAP requirements may benefit from some heating assistance offered by the Citizens Energy Oil Heat Program, Harpin said. The program was founded by Joseph P. Kennedy II, who serves as the president and chairman of the Citizen’s Energy Corp..

Those deemed eligible for LIHEAP assistance are automatically eligible for the Kennedy founded program, she said. Those families are expected to receive an eligibility notification, according to information provided at the http://citizensenergy.com Internet web site.

Harpin encouraged those who did not qualify for LIHEAP but are struggling with heat costs to contact her at the NBCA office for more information about the Citizens Energy program.

Information is also available at the Citizens Energy Oil Heat Program web site.

Harpin may be reached at the office by calling 1-413-663-3014.

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