PITTSFIELD -- The First Baptist Church of Pittsfield Choir will showcase itself tonight when it presents "The Light of Christmas," a holiday concert to benefit the Pittsfield Area Council of Congregations Emergency Fuel Fund.
The performance, which includes a blend of original songs and familiar carols, will begin at 7:30 p.m. at the church. All of the proceeds, raised by freewill donations, will go to the fund to provide home heating oil to local families in need.
"There’s going to be a big need for fuel this winter," said Quentin Chin, the interim pastor at the church.
Chin, who also serves as treasurer for the PACC Fuel Fund, said the population of people living at low-income and poverty levels in Berkshire County is growing.
Last month, Tammy Biangini, Berkshire Community Action Council’s fuel assistance director, told The Eagle that more than 8,000 households applied for heating assistance last winter. She said she expects to see more than 9,000 families seeking help this winter.
Chin said the PACC Fuel Fund provides one-time grants of 100 gallons of heating oil to eligible families each winter heating season. He said depending on the amount of donations the fund receives, the PACC can provide oil to between 35 and 50 families.
Many families also receive fuel through the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). But LIHEAP funding levels have been slashed by 30 percent since 2010, equating to a loss of 436,000 gallons of fuel assistance in Berkshire County. Last year, Massachusetts received $133 million in LIHEAP funds. The average payout to households in need ranged from $675 to $1,125 in 2013.
To qualify for heating assistance this year, the gross annual income of a household of two would have to be less than $41,932, Biangini said. A family of four would qualify if they make less than $61,664 annually. The benefits will range from $195 to $750 per household.
"I’m thinking there may be a lot of very cold people in January," said Chin.
He said he’s heard that some people have already gone through their LIHEAP fuel allocations.
Other fuel assistance programs in the commonwealth won’t offer help until later in the heating season. For example, the Massachusetts Good Neighbor Energy Fund, which is partnered with The Salvation Army, won’t open until Feb. 3.
Chin said the PACC has already opened its spigot; He pre-purchased 2,000 gallons of heating oil, which will serve 20 families.
The PACC will purchase additional fuel on the donations that will be raised through concerts being held this weekend by the First Baptist Church Choir and The Gospel Gang & The Messengers groups respectively.
"These performances are a tremendous gift to the community," said Chin. "It will allow us to be able to provide more households with fuel. But there will always be people who are in need of heating assistance."