Baby, it’s cold outside.
And the heating oil is expensive.
And people who through poor planning or life crisis or just plain bad luck don’t have enough money for an oil delivery are calling churches.
When I was a single mother of three, going to seminary, and spending my first winter in this house, heating oil cost 89 cents a gallon. If I could come up with $90, I could get 100 gallons delivered.
When I called the oil company last Friday, our discounted price was $2.95 per gallon. So to get 100 gallons is almost $300.
I don’t know what kind of emergency or discretionary funds your church has available, but giving away the funds for 100 gallons of oil is just not going to be within our powers at Main Street Church this winter. We’ve been talking about how to handle requests, knowing that the need will be great. Just putting gas in the car is a burden for working poor families, and for many of us in the middle, too!
Last week I got a sad phone call from a woman who told me a terrible story. She said she moved here 8 months ago with her husband and five small children. Then four months ago he walked out. They had an empty oil tank and no money. Could we help?
She lives in one of the little towns surrounding Old Mill Town, and I asked if she had talked to any of the churches closer to home. She told me they attended the Congregational Church in one of those towns, but the church could not help them because all available assistance had been given to a grandmother taking care of her grandchildren. I told her we could not swing 100 gallons, but if she could find an oil company that would deliver 50, we could help her.
A second call came from a man describing himself as her friend, telling me she had left town to take a sick child to her mother’s house, but he was still trying to find an oil company delivering in her area that might do 50 gallons.
While I was at a clergy retreat yesterday, bemoaning the price of oil and the 100 gallon minimum, the man was calling and leaving me messages, and when I returned to the office this morning, there was another call from the woman. She gave me the name of what I assumed was a local oil company, and I arranged for a check that she could pick up tomorrow morning.
Then tonight the man called me again, upset that he had heard nothing. I assured him that I had spoken to his friend and made arrangements for a check. He thanked me and said goodbye, but within minutes he called again, and then I heard a completely different story.
The children are his, he said. The woman is a fly-by-night girlfriend who walked out two days ago. The grandmother the church is helping? His mother, who has been caring for his children.
I guess he thought a church would be more sympathetic to a woman.
I’m not sure he isn’t right.
Come to find out the name his "girlfriend" gave me for the check was not an oil company but a feed store. I suspect she knows someone there who would have cashed a check.
Tonight I called the pastor of the small country church, and he confirmed that they have been generous in helping the grandmother care for the children, and that he has visited the father in jail. Country Pastor said the church is still helping the family, something the man had hedged on with me, but I guess I don’t blame him completely. He’s trying to get all the help he can.
I guess I’m glad we have a locked door to the church office building, one that no one can enter without being buzzed in. I sent an email to my admin and will call her first thing to be sure she does not give the check to the woman who will come looking for it in the morning.
I hate the thought of explaining this to the good-hearted Deacon who raced over to get it to us before we left today.
Tis the Season, right? When visions of dollar signs dance in our heads? How will we make it all happen for those we love? Or who can we get to do it for us? There is an air of desperation abroad that worries me. How can we go on this way, with gasoline and heating oil at such ridiculous prices? Will our churches need to become shelters for our own members, when they cannot afford to get another 100 gallons?