By Jennika Baines
Sun Associate Editor
As the song goes, when cheeks are nice and rosy it’s comfy and cozy that everyone wants to be.
Of course, “cozy” comes at a cost.
That’s why a parish in Pulaski is providing small grants to families in need who have fallen behind in their utility payments.
Christ Our Light Parish coordinates a Fuel-Aid program that provides grants with a maximum of $125 toward the amount owed by families in need. A family can get one grant a year and the money is paid directly by the parish to the utility company.
The program, which started in 2005, brings together the generosity of parishioners and the real needs of those living in the area.
“People are very generous and kind-hearted, especially at the holidays,” said Bill Flynn, business manager for the parish. Because food is such a big part of the holidays, charities providing families in need with food baskets seem to get the most attention.
But Flynn said that there are already a number of organizations in the area feeding those in need. The Lions Club distributes food at Thanksgiving and Christmas, the Episcopal church has a free Thanksgiving dinner, even Christ Our Light itself has a food pantry that provides to those who need it. So organizing an extra holiday drive to provide even more food didn’t seem necessary.
“In a sense what we were doing was bringing coals to Newcastle,” Flynn said. “Why try to duplicate what other organizations are already doing?”
Instead, the parish focuses on raising donations for the Fuel-Aid fund around the holidays. He said the funds raised are able to help between 10 and 20 families in a year.
While nowhere in the Syracuse Diocese really dodges the snowball when it comes to bad winter weather, Pulaski is certainly among the hardest hit.
According to the Northeast Regional Climate Center, Pulaski can see an average snowfall of 34 inches in December, nearly 50 inches in January, and another 34.5 inches in February. Average temperatures in these months hover in the 20s. Even in a modest home this can lead to astronomical utility bills.
Patrick Stella, a spokesman for National Grid, said the number of people who are 60 days or more in arrears in their utility bills has risen to between 10 and 15 percent in the last two years alone.
“Numbers are going up in the past two years just as a factor of the economy,” Stella said. “That’s a standard trend with all utilities across the state.”
While raising funds for the Fuel-Aid program is a focus of the church around the holidays, the grant is made available to families in need throughout the year.
“We do it all year long because a lot of these bills don’t build up and become unmanageable until April or May,” Flynn said. Within a few months, families who are barely scraping by are facing bills that are only getting bigger. “They may pay at these bills for a few months but it doesn’t become a debilitating need until let’s say June or July.”
Flynn said the Fuel-Aid grants are used not only for National Grid, but also Suburban Propane bills. He will also purchase propane tanks for $25 for families who use them to cook with.
While the families the church helps don’t need to be parishioners or even Catholic, they do have to live within the Sandy Creek, Lacona, Altmar-Parish-Williamstown and Pulaski school districts.
But Flynn said that word has spread about the program and he said he’s recently received a very nice contribution from a couple in Fulton for the program.
To donate toward the Fuel-Aid program, make checks payable to Christ Our Light Church, 23 Niagara St., Pulaski N.Y. 13142 and write “Fuel-Aid” on the memo line.