For some Islanders, heating their home is a major struggle
© Guardian photo by Heather Taweel
Tracy Elwood, with Feasible Fuels, gets ready to make an oil delivery in Charlottetown recently.
It’s getting cold out.
For many Islanders, that means it will also be getting cold inside.
The annual seasonal struggle to keep warm while at home has arrived. Okay, winter doesn’t officially arrive for another two weeks but the cold weather was not going to wait until Dec. 21 to first surface in Prince Edward Island.
Capt. Jamie Locke of the Salvation Army in Charlottetown knows what chilling practices lie ahead for the less fortunate in the province. He notes some, sadly but predictably, will turn to desperate and even dangerous measures to stay warm.
Electric heaters will be fired up. Piling blankets on beds and wrapping up in sweaters and even donning winter coats will be an approach by some to combat a cold household.
Others will go as far as cranking up their stoves to bring heat to a home when there is no money to put oil in the tank.
“We have heard some of those really desperate stories,’’ says Locke. “It’s that extreme that should be unnecessary in this day and age.’’
The Salvation Army will provide help, as in the past, but only until its own money runs out.
The charitable organization has again signed a contract with the P.E.I. government to receive $121,200 (the same amount as last year) to put towards a home heating program that is always in great demand.
The program, which applies to oil, wood and electricity, kicks in Jan. 14 for the entire province.
Those eligible to access assistance through the home heating program must be a resident of P.E.I. that is facing hardship. Applicants cannot be recipients of social assistance. They must produce a record both of income as well as home heating expenses.
Applicants must also have less than a quarter tank of fuel remaining.
Each applicant can receive up to 400 litres of oil or the equivalent value for alternate heat sources once over a one-year period.
The $121,200 is expected to run out before the cold subsides.
The Salvation Army has not set aside funds to top up the home heating program, but does graciously accept donations to the cause, says Locke.
A couple years back, Jeff Mellish took note of the fact many seemed unable to afford to fill their heating oil tanks to the top when he would observe people in winter lining up at a gas station in Charlottetown with jerrycans. He responded by putting Feasible Fuels on the road, a company offering low volume deliveries.
“It looked like viable business,’’ he said. “It has been going great.’’
Feasible Fuels seems to have found a niche market. Two years in, the company has about 2,000 customers, up from just a few hundred after the first two months in business. Mellish says his company’s three trucks deliver fuel from Miscouche to Souris.
The average delivery is around 200-litres but he notes a handful of deliveries each day are at the minimum 100-litre level.
Other companies will not make such low-volume deliveries.
“They (Feasible Fuels) have definitely filled a niche,’’ says Kevin Curry, regional manager of Co-op Energy.
Curry says Co-op Energy, which has about 7,000 customers across the Island, will deliver as little as 300 litres to a home if it is a regular order and the customer doesn’t mind waiting two or three days.
Mellish says Feasible Fuels can afford to provide low volumes because the company delivers to specific regions on specific days to help keep costs down. Also, the company operates on a cash-on-delivery basis.
Customers say buying heating fuel in smaller volume has made budgeting easier over the winter.
“They are not faced with the choice of buying a tankful of oil or buying groceries,’’ he says.
“Oh, we’ve been having excellent feedback.’’
A standard tank of 910 litres typically costs more than $1,000 to fill. That is a bit steep for Melissa Peter-Paul of Scotchfort.
Peter-Paul, 27, is a single mother raising a six-year-old boy while participating in Trades HERizons, a project designed to increase the number of women in non-traditional trades and technology jobs on P.E.I.
She lives in a 35-year-old home that “takes a lot to heat it up.’’ Getting through winter requires careful balancing of a limited income.
“Winter is the toughest time,’’ says Peter-Paul, who does office work for the Abegweit First Nations Band for a few months each year.
She has been a customer of Feasible Fuels for the two years that the company has been in operation.
She usually gets 200 litres of heating fuel delivered at a time, but she has had less on occasion.
Peter-Paul says she simply tries to save enough money to put towards heating her home.
Her oil tank ran out last winter, leaving her without heat for two days during a cold snap in January. Community members brought over electric heaters and she and her son camped out in the living room.
“We just made it work,’’ she recalls.
Peter-Paul and her son bundle up indoors during the winter so they can keep the heat down in the house.
Meanwhile, Locke is urging Islanders to provide assistance to others in need.
“Look to your neighbours to see if there is any way you can help,’’ he says. “It’s that whole spirit of giving.’’