Jackson County Fuel Committee: Helping low-income families fend off the winter cold

SOU students Ben Harrison (left), Ian Keusink (center), and James Selby (right) during a wood cut put on by the Jackson County Fuel Committee.

SOU students Ben Harrison (left), Ian Keusink (center), and James Selby (right) during a wood cut put on by the Jackson County Fuel Committee.

SOU student Edwin Meyer splits wood at one of the Jackson County Fuel Committee’s weekly wood cuts.

SOU student Edwin Meyer splits wood at one of the Jackson County Fuel Committee’s weekly wood cuts.

Many in Southern Oregon are familiar with the challenges that the winter months bring, and one of the most important aspects of the winter is something that most people take for granted: heat.

The Jackson County Fuel Committee has been working non-stop since 1977 to ensure that low-income people have the basic necessities of heat and light, and as the temperatures drop, the need only rises.

The JCFC is a 33-year-old volunteer-based organization that receives no government funding at all. It is run entirely on the energy and work of the community and its volunteers.

“Having that staying power is essential,” said Bill Jenett, who has volunteered with the organization for the past 30 years.

One of the main concerns for the JCFC is the increasing cost of power. According to Jenett, ACCESS, a local organization that provides energy and housing assistance, had its funds nearly cut in half this year.

“ACCESS started taking applications for assistance on Nov. 1, and by Nov. 3 they were out of funds,” he said. During the first six months of this year, there was a 111 percent increase in the number of Jackson County residents who received a utility shut-off.

Circumstances like these are what inspire the JCFC to organize petition campaigns to oppose local and federal rate increases on utilities. In order to take this issue to the next political step, the JCFC is working with the city to compile a report of shut-offs, which they will later use to petition on the federal level in an effort to stop rate increases.

“What the JCFC hopes to accomplish in these next years is to train more volunteers how to organize, to build and run programs that meet the day to day needs and challenge the government policies that force people to choose between heating and eating,” said Jenett.

The JCFC works closely with the city as well as Pacific Power and Avista Utilities to avoid shut-offs, and help with reconnection fees. Another one of their goals on the government level is to implement a policy that does not allow the low-income households to be shut off during the winter months.

On the community level, the JCFC supplies those in need with firewood, and according to Jenett, in the last three weeks the JCFC has delivered wood to 26 families. The wood-cuts are held every Saturday and are often supported by local businesses in the way of food and supplies. The Department of Public Works and the Parks Department recently started donating wood.

Increasing energy efficiency is another aspect that the JCFC can assist with. Ensuring that homes are properly insulated can lower the cost of heating significantly.

The JCFC has a quarterly publication called “Ye Olde Saw” that includes events, information, and gives thanks to all of the local businesses that support the committee. You can support the JCFC with a subscription to “Ye Olde Saw,” or a donation of $2.

Everyone is encouraged to participate, especially those who have received help, making the efforts more personal in nature, with a “pay it forward” mentality. Various organizations at SOU take part in the efforts, such as the Hunger and Homelessness Coalition, Phronesis, and the SOU football team.

Please contact the JCFC at 488-2905 for assistance with weatherizing your home, receiving firewood, utility advocacy, or to help with their many efforts. You can volunteer in many ways, including training over the holiday breaks, so stop by their office at 995 Siskiyou Blvd., right across the street from campus.

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