For many, the arrival of winter means time with family and friends in warm and festive spaces. But for low income families, winter is a stressful time when keeping warm means falling behind on your bills and accumulating debt. In Connecticut, families can turn to Operation Fuel so they are not forced to make choices between keeping warm or paying for other necessities like rent and groceries.

Operation Fuel was founded in 1977 after a worldwide oil embargo caused an unprecedented increase in home heating prices. Although federal and state governments offered energy assistance programs for families experiencing poverty, many low-income working families did not qualify for government help and were left out in the cold. To address the crisis in Connecticut, faith, business, and government leaders came together to create Operation Fuel to provide relief for residents who fall through the gaps of government assistance.

Over the past year and a half, the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic has meant more families than ever before needing Operation Fuel’s support to stay current with their fuel bills. Connecticut Community Foundation—which has supported Operation Fuel’s efforts in our 21-town region for several years—has been able to support the organization’s efforts to meet this additional demand through grants totaling more than $35,000 during this period, made possible by generous gifts from donors who have supported the Foundation’s pandemic relief efforts. With inflation in the fuel sector high and cold temperatures setting in, this winter will once again mean increased demand for assistance from Operation Fuel.

One local resident , Kelly, who wished to be identified only by her first name, shared her experience with us. “I was furloughed and then laid off from work due to COVID-19. These are very bleak times, and it is very hard to pay all of the household bills on unemployment. I am a single mother and a widow, so I am the sole provider, and things have been quite difficult to manage. Operation Fuel came to my rescue.”

For another local resident named Alex, assistance couldn’t have come at a better time, “I am so grateful to receive assistance with my gas and light bill at this time. I lost my job in June of 2020. Things have been really tough. On top of that, my unemployment was cut. I’m looking forward to contributing as soon as I’m on my feet.”

For Brenda Watson, executive director of Operation Fuel, helping these families is personal. “I’ve always had a commitment to the communities that raised me. My goal after college was to work in human services. After several tries in municipal and quasi state government roles, I’ve found that human services and basic needs organizations are where I find myself to be most useful.” Brenda acknowledges that COVID-19 has made things worse for everyone, as “it has added to the disparities that already existed. But families that never sought assistance now find themselves needing help to get through challenging financial times. Most people who need help would much rather be able to take care of themselves.”

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, prices for heating oil, natural gas, and other fuels are expected to surge this year, which means that Operation Fuel’s support will be even more crucial. Donors who support the Foundation’s pandemic response and other initiatives such as the Area of Greatest Need continue to support this work, as well as the efforts of others working to ensure that our neighbors’ basic needs are being met.

Brenda reports that Operation Fuel has received 1,408 applications from individuals in the Foundation’s 21-town region this year, requesting $332,833 in assistance. She notes, “without the support of the Foundation there would be an increased gap in services to folks in the region, seeking year-round energy and water assistance. We simply cannot do this work without the financial support of the Foundation.”

We encourage people who are interested in supporting organizations like Operation Fuel that are meeting the critical needs of our neighbors to make a gift to the Foundation’s Area of Greatest Need Fund.

If you need utility assistance, please call 211 or apply through Operation Fuel here.