By Virgil Wright Bay State Banner
SPRINGFIELD -- Beverly Edwards stood outside her Main Street home last week waiting for the oil man to arrive. She expected the delivery. What surprised her was the delivery man. Edwards, with two of her seven children by her side, laughed when she spotted former Congressman Joe Kennedy at the wheel of the tanker truck pulling into the icy driveway of her single-family home. Kennedy, flashing a familiar grin, had to back up once to negotiate the slick surface, but with a roar of the engines, the Alpha Oil tanker surged up the driveway to make the first Springfield delivery of fuel oil under his Citizens Energy Oil Heat Program. “We’ve already gone through our federal fuel assistance,” explained Edwards, as a herd of reporters and local elected officials watched the casually attired Citizens Energy president pull the hose from the truck. “This will help us get through the rest of the season.” A single mother, Edwards qualified for federally funded fuel assistance, but had already exhausted her allotment by early January. The Citizens program allows eligible households like hers to purchase up to 150 gallons of home hearting oil for 40 cents per gallon -- less than half the average retail price. The oil heat initiative, launched by Kennedy after re-taking the helm of the non-profit corporation he founded before his election to Congress in 1986, will make over two million gallons of fuel available to low-income and elderly households across the state this winder. Over 300 local oil heat dealers are delivering the citizens fuel, and the state’s 22 fuel assistance agencies -- including Action for Boston Community Development -- are administering the program, for Hub households in need. “At a time when our economy seems to be going so well, there are in fact thousands of our friends and neighbors like Beverly Edwards who need a helping hand to get through the winter,” said Kennedy, who retired from Congress after serving six terms on Capitol Hill. Addressing reporters, Kennedy added that the federal fuel assistance program has been cut in half over the last ten years -- reaching fewer households with less oil than ever before. Edwards, whose children range in age from 3 to 16, recently obtained a day care license and is planning to open up family day care business in her 15-room house. With a 1,000-gallon capacity fuel tang, she said it takes a lot of oil to heat the wood-frame dwelling. “Every bit helps,” said Edwards, clutching her coat in the cold January wind. To help reach more families, Springfield Mayor Michael Albano said he had directed over $11,000 in public funds to the program. State Rep. Dennis Murphy (D-Springfield), who chairs the House Energy Committee on Beacon Hill, announced plans to file legislation directing a portion of the state’s surplus to the initiative. Households interested in obtaining fuel through the Oil Heat Program or contributing to the program are advised to call 1-877-JOE-4-OIL (1-877-563-4645). The United Way of Massachusetts Bay is collecting contributions to expand the program. Photo caption: Beverly Edwards and her two children John and Christine talk with Springfield Mayor Michael Albano (l) and former congressman Joseph P. Kennedy II about Citizen’s Energy Oil Heat Program, a program Kennedy launched after his retirement from Congress.