PITTSFIELD -- An uplifting holiday concert Sunday afternoon at the First United Methodist Church capped a weekend of musical fundraisers in an effort to help heat more county households this winter.

A faith-based group -- The Gospel Gang and The Messengers -- performed an hour of classic and contemporary religious Christmas songs to benefit Emergency Fuel Oil fund of the Pittsfield Area Council of Congregations, or PACC.



The group held a similar concert on Friday night in South County to fill the coffers of the emergency fuel assistance program at Construct Inc. The nonprofit has provided a variety of housing-related programs in the South Berkshires for more than 30 years.

In addition, the First Baptist Church in Pittsfield on Friday held its own Christmas concert to benefit PACC's fuel oil charity.

The total amount raised from the three events wasn't available Sunday evening, but organizers told the nearly 100 people gathered at the Pittsfield concert all the donations were appreciated.

"This is an opportunity to provide warmth to those who need it this winter," said Rev. Ralph Howe, pastor of First United Methodist Church.

"Every gallon you can donate helps," added Rev. Janet Deranian. The pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Lenox noted that fuel is currently around the $3.50 per gallon.

The PACC fuel fund provides one-time grants of 100 gallons of heating oil to eligible families who've exhausted all other forms of fuel assistance during the heating season.

Many of the 35-50 families PACC hopes to help this winter also receive fuel through the federal Low Income Energy Assistance Program. However, LIHEAP funding levels have been slashed by 30 percent the last three years, equating to a loss of 436,000 gallons of fuel oil assistance to Berkshire County.

Since the PACC concerts began in 2010 to help make up the difference, the events have raised almost $12,000, according to Geoff Simpson, musical director of The Gospel Gang and The Messengers.

Simpson noted part of the contributions have come from 15-20 area businesses who, without hesitation, generously underwrite the PACC concerts.

"In four years of concerts, I've never heard ‘No,'" he said.

But with the need for fuel assistance increasing and public funding declining, the local contemporary/gospel group felt compelled to add a second show this year at the First Congregational Church in Great Barrington. The Friday concert benefited the 200 households Construct officials anticipate will access their agency's fuel oil fund.

While admission was free, organizers of the three concerts relied on donations from the free-will offering conducted during the events. The money collected in Great Barrington goes toward Construct, with the Pittsfield donations presented to PACC's Emergency Oil Fund administered through the Pittsfield Salvation Army.

Last year, the fund helped nearly 30 families and individuals pay their fuel oil bills, a number expected to rise for the current heating season, according to local Salvation Army officials.

To reach Dick Lindsay:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233