Kingsport Times-News: Mountain Empire Older Citizens gears up for Fuel Fund Walkathon
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Mountain Empire Older Citizens gears up for Fuel Fund Walkathon

Mike Still • Apr 16, 2019 at 10:15 PM

BIG STONE GAP — Mountain Empire Older Citizens has been helping elderly residents in far Southwest Virginia cope with winter heating bills for more than four decades.

MEOC Emergency Services Director Marsha Craiger said part of that effort has been the annual Fuel Fund Walkathon, which enters its 43rd season on May 5 at Big Stone Gap’s Bullitt Park.

Craiger said the Fuel Fund has tried to take some of the impact from high winter heating costs on senior citizens in Wise, Lee and Scott counties and Norton.

“You hear of people who struggle to make ends meet when our caseworkers visit clients’ homes to assess their needs, but you may not realize how much until you visit them,” Craiger said. “You get a whole different perspective when you see what they’re going through.”

Even though this winter was mild compared to previous seasons, Craiger said, 991 people got help with electric bills, propane, heating oil, wood and coal costing more than $216,500.

In the winter of 2016-17, MEOC paid more than $201,000 to help 1,019 people with heating costs and more than $233,000 in the 2017-18 season to help 1,068 people.

Craiger said persons 60 and older whose income is up to 150 percent of poverty level can qualify for assistance

Craiger said that MEOC in previous years received help from a local supplier who donated coal for the program before going out of business a few years ago. While electricity, propane and heating oil make up the bulk of demand for Fuel Fund help, there still are many residents who heat their homes with coal and wood.

The most recent winter may have been milder than many, Craiger said, but rising fuel and delivery costs have increased the program’s expenses.

“This year’s walkathon goal is $165,000, and we have other fundraisers later in the year,” Craiger said. “In the winter, many area churches get together and have their congregations donate, too.”

All of the money raised at the walkathon goes toward paying heating bills and nothing else, Craiger said.

Sponsor contribution sheets for walkers are available at MEOC’s Big Stone Gap office, or walkers can get them via mail by calling (800) 252-6362.

The Walkathon starts Sunday, May 5 with registration between 1:30 and 1:45 p.m. The walking begins at 2 p.m. at the Big Stone Gap Greenbelt trailhead in Bullitt Park and runs the 5-kilometer length of the trail.

Walkers who complete the route can stay for a picnic after the walkathon. Everyone collecting at least $100 in pledges will receive a MEOC 5K T-shirt at the picnic.

“I’m always humbled and baffled by how much support we get from the community,” Craiger said. “It’s amazing

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