BANGOR, Maine — With poor, elderly and disabled Mainers facing deep cuts to the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program which helps keep them warm in the winter, Bangor’s most famous resident, author Stephen King, is stepping forward to help out.
King — who owns Bangor radio stations WZON 620 AM, WKIT 100.3 FM and The Pulse 103.1 FM — said Tuesday that the Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation would work with the radio stations to try to raise as much as $140,000 to be used for fuel assistance for low-income Mainers in the stations’ broadcast area.
“We’ll match up to $70,000 of the amount raised,” King said in a telephone interview. “This economy is terrible and Tabitha and I both worry so much about Bangor because it truly is a working-class town and we are always looking for ways to help, and right now this is a great need.”
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services notified MaineHousing late last month that it should expect to receive $23 million in LIHEAP funds this winter, down from $55.6 million last year. Gov. Paul LePage said last week he would ask the Legislature for funds to bridge the gap.
King said that as the need of the people increases, the help from the government decreases.
“And on top of it the price of fuel continues to rise. The cost goes up, the need goes up and the assistance goes down. That’s the bottom line. That’s what is happening,” he said.
Though he and his wife spend much of the winter at their home in Florida, King said their devotion to Bangor never wavers.
“We still come back. Our children grew up on West Broadway and that is still where they want to be during the holidays,” he said. “We don’t forget how cold it is in Maine in the winter.”
As part of the stations’ “Help Keep ME Warm This Winter,” Pat LaMarche, host of The Pulse “Morning Show,” will live in the cold for several days later this month, said station manager Bobby Russell.
LaMarche will move into a small wooden shed provided by Wooden Wonders of Unity and will broadcast from there beginning at 6 a.m. Monday, Nov. 21.
She will stay in the shed through Thanksgiving and Black Friday in an effort to remind listeners of the importance of remembering and giving to the less fortunate during the most festive time of the year.
King, however, said that he was aware of the difficulty right now of asking people who already are financially strapped to give more.
“We are chipping in, but we know that it is increasingly difficult for some people to chip in. Can we raise the whole amount? I don’t know, but we’ll do what we can,” he said.
With threats of federal cuts of more than $30 million for heating assistance and rising costs of oil, Shawn Yardley, director of Bangor Health and Community Services, said the situation for many is dire.
In the past two weeks, Yardley said Tuesday, he has received more calls from people desperate to find help to fill their oil tanks than he has in the past three years.
He said the callers are frightened and for most there is no help available.
“I give them contacts and numbers, but I tell them, and I know, that those resources have no help to give,” he said.
Yardley is setting his sights on instructing those Mainers on how to stay safe in a cold house.
“Pockets are getting shallow,” he said, “even among those who are very charitable. Are we grateful for what Stephen and Tabitha are doing? You bet. But none of us can make up for these deep cuts to this program. I know what I need to do now in my position. I need to start reminding people to stay safe — to not put their homes at risk of fire, to not run the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning and to encourage them to perhaps move in with friends and family members for the winter … in order to survive this time.”