With high costs on everything from groceries and gas, to electricity and  fuel oil, northern Maine households are feeling anything but lucky these days.

Aroostook County Action Program is planning a St. Patrick’s “Keep The County Warm  Day” at its locations County-wide on Thursday, March 17, in hopes of spreading the luck of the  Irish in the form of hundreds of free, brand new coats for kids, and same-day over the phone appointments for fuel assistance. 

More than 1,500 new children’s coats have made their way to The County, thanks to a generous donation by Operation Warm. On March 17, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., ACAP will  distribute these winter coats at its locations in Fort Kent, Madawaska, Caribou, Presque Isle, Houlton, and Dyer Brook. 

“We certainly understand that times are challenging for many right now. Every home in our area has been impacted and challenged by the higher costs we are experiencing on basic goods  and needed household items,” said Sherry Locke, ACAP director of advancement. “Although  we are hopefully headed for warmer spring days in the not too distant future, Aroostook County still has some winter jacket weather to go this season. We encourage families to think ahead to next fall and consider getting the next size up for their children. This special distribution would not be possible without the very generous donation by our friends at Operation Warm.” 

Operation Warm is a national nonprofit that manufactures brand-new, high-quality coats and shoes for children in need. They partner with compassionate individuals, community organizations, and corporations across North America to provide emotional warmth, confidence to socialize and succeed, and hope of a brighter future by using the gift as a catalyst for community connection.

“Operation Warm’s mission has always been focused on the whole child. Our tagline, ‘more than a coat’ means that the coats and shoes we provide don’t just provide physical warmth, but  also emotional warmth. Many families living in poverty struggle to provide necessities like  food, housing, clothing and child care. The gift of a brand new coat or pair of shoes offers hope  to both children and their parents, reminding them there are those in their community that  care about their well-being and future,” said Grace Sica, executive director of Operation Warm. 

Operation Warm winter coats (sizes 2T to youth 18) will be distributed at the following ACAP locations between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Thursday, March 17: 

Fort Kent: 40 Alfalfa Avenue 

Madawaska: 88 Fox Street 

Caribou: 17 Bowles Road 

Presque Isle: 771 Main Street, 44 Park Street, and 37 Birch Street

Houlton: 91 Military Street 

Dyer Brook: 922 Dyer Brook Road (Southern Aroostook Community School) 

Also on March 17 ACAP team members in the Home Energy Assistance Program will be offering on the spot HEAP appointments over the phone or  in person (in Presque Isle and Houlton) for any households not currently enrolled in the  program. With the recent spike in the cost of fuel oil, and increase in income eligibility guidelines for the HEAP Program in recent years, agency leaders are encouraging people who  have never applied, have applied and been denied in the past, and could especially use  assistance at this time to call on March 17 and complete an application over the phone. 

“Many people assume they do not qualify, or that they will take the benefit away from others who need it more than they do. The reality is we estimate hundreds, if not thousands, more County households, who never apply for HEAP, are eligible. And, households who receive a  benefit do so based on their own qualification and do not take assistance from another family,” said Shannon Hill, manager of Energy Services for ACAP. “We are encouraging all community  members to consider applying for HEAP, especially with the current high fuel costs.”

Income eligibility guidelines, by household size, can be found on the ACAP website – www.acap-me.org. Hill says even households who slightly exceed the guidelines should reach  out to the HEAP Program as staff can assess if certain deductions, like out-of-pocket medical  expenses, can help lower the overall household income to within the eligibility guidelines.

To  reach the ACAP HEAP Program and take advantage of the open appointment day on March 17,  or otherwise schedule an appointment, call 207-768-3053.