An easy way to help neighbors in need

LOCK HAVEN — It’s February and it’s still cold outside. Most of us who live here expect the weather to stay cold for some time yet, cold enough that we don’t want to live without heating our homes.

Some in our community, however, have reached the end of the financial rope and aren’t sure how to keep their families warm.

The sudden loss of a job, the death of a family member, illness, the loss of a car, a change in marital status can send once-solvent families into a financial crisis.

All of us in the community at large who can scrape together the money to heat our own houses, have an easy, inexpensive way to help these families.

We have people who extend that help on our behalf, and it doesn’t cost us much.

All we have to do is participate in the One Gallon Challenge by donating the cost of one gallon of heating fuel.

Whether you use propane, oil or another form of fuel, you can participate by sending a small donation to the local ministerium. The latest suggested donation is $4. To do a little something extra, make it $5 — or $10 or more, if you so choose.

The One Gallon Challenge has been in place for a decade. That first winter, $7,432 was donated and 27 households were helped with heating costs. The amount donated grew every winter until it peaked in 2013-14.

By the time last winter arrived, $140,457 had been donated over the years, helping 403 households.

Last winter was a warm one, but still we donated $10,264.61, and again, 27 households received help.

But this winter, only $4,484.16 has been received so far, with 19 households receiving aid.

Rev. Bruce Wallace ran the program for years, as the treasurer of the ministerium. (The organization’s full name is the Southern Clinton County Association of Christian Churches.) He took pains to help families who were facing a true emergency, not the same people over and over again.

He has since retired from pastoring churches full time and has also retired as SCCACC treasurer.

Today, Fr. Joseph Orr of Holy Spirit Catholic Parish runs the program, with assistance from the SCCACC treasurer, Rev. Steve Salmon, pastor of the First Church of Christ in Lock Haven. They take the same sort of care with donations, targeting the aid to the people all of us want to help.

Although the donations to One Gallon Challenge seem to be down this winter, Fr. Orr reports more than $12,600 has been donated as undesignated funds. These dollars can give general help to the less fortunate. They usually go out as fast as they are received, the priest said. At last report, the undesignated funds are down to $2,000.

Fr. Orr said he asks people to give undesignated funds so he can help people who may be on the verge of being evicted, whether or not they have a heating problem. Electricity, water, rent are other critical payments that families need to keep a roof over their heads.

Most who apply for aid are good people on limited income, or with a disability, or working people who have suddenly run into a difficult time, he reported. For many of them, asking for help is difficult and they do so only as their last resort.

He said a number of churches in town have pooled money to reach out to neighbors in need, adding, “Thank God for them.” Other organizations and even private citizens help as well.

Anyone and everyone is encouraged to donate to the One Gallon Challenge or contribute undesignated dollars, whether they consider themselves Christians or not. The ministerium will put the money to good use on behalf of all of us.

“And we don’t categorize people who ask for help by whether they are Christians or not,” Fr. Orr said. “They may be living in situations I would not want them to be in, but unless there is drug use or something similar, I will listen and try to help.

“A lot of single mothers out there are struggling on a single income to provide a home for their children. Some get some income from the father of the child, but you would be surprised at how many single mothers are out there struggling to get by and working hard.”

Little children, expectant mothers, the person sitting behind the desk at the business you are visiting may all be affected by severe financial uncertainty, Fr. Orr said.

“We do have people who have become homeless during this cold spell here in Lock Haven,” he said.

Donations may be given through a church; dropped off at Holy Spirit Parish Center, next to St. Agnes Church, on East Walnut Street; or sent directly to: SCCACC, 3 E. Walnut St., Lock Haven, Pa. 17745.

Checks should be made payable to SCCACC, with “One Gallon Challenge” or “Undesignated Funds” written on the memo line.

Based on the statistics from the ministerium, if we all give a little, we will help a lot.