When retired Maine resident Robert Hartford tried to hand over the title to his 16-year-old Lincoln Town Car in exchange for heating oil to prevent him and his disabled wife from freezing, he didn't expect the outpouring of generosity that would follow.
But Dan Barry's article that appeared on the front page of Saturday's edition of The New York Times struck a chord with readers across the country, many of whom immediately wanted to help.
According to the Lewiston Sun Journal, Ike Libby, the struggling business owner of Hometown Energy in Dixfield, Maine, says the company has received over $100,000 in donations to help the heat homes of their impoverished customers.
"I didn't expect this to happen," Libby told the Lewiston Sun Journal. "You can't even put it into words. America's got a heartbeat and we are hearing it."
Cutbacks have reduced the budget for the federal Low Income Heating Assistance Program (LIHEAP) from $56.5 million to $39.9 million in Maine. As a result, many people living in cold climates depending on aid from the program have been struggling to keep up with heating oil expenses this winter.
Nevertheless, Libby has helped the Hartfords and many other Maine families struggling to stay warm by delivering oil to people he knew couldn't afford their bills.
Now, thanks to the donations, he's been able to set up a fund to help cover the costs, according to the Associated Press.
"I haven't always looked out for the best interest of the business, but you know what this has been great," Libby told WCSH, referring to the donations.
The Hartfords have also received donations directly, along with having their house fitted for energy efficient insulation by Josh Wojcik of Upright Frameworks, according to the Lewiston Journal.
Those interested in donating to the heating oil trust can contact Hometown Energy at (207) 562-8822 or mail checks to Hometown Energy at P.O. Box 485, Dixfield, ME 04224. Donations are also being accepted online via Hometown Energy's website.