By Nicholas Upton
Most every member of the National Association of Oil and Energy Service Professionals knows about non profit wing of the organization, Oil Heat Cares.
But for the uninitiated, the non-profit wing of the association aims to help find heating equipment for those who need it most. Elderly pensioners, veterans, disabled folks and struggling families can all benefit from the organization’s work.
In one of their most recent projects, a group of technicians in the New York City chapter of the OESP helped Mr. Maxie Williams get a new boiler installed.
Angel Gonzalez, OESP chapter president for the area said Williams’ need was brought to his attention after a sales call.
“That project came to us from Petro,” said Gonzalez. “The sales rep on that project was out there trying to help out this customer, but he couldn’t afford it and couldn’t get credit approved. So he decided to put in an application to Oil Heat Cares.”
Gonzalez said Williams was in a tough spot. With his boiler down, the elderly man was using space heaters as his only supply of heat. Of course, that’s incredibly dangerous, so Gonzalez pushed for a quick turnaround.
And with help from a few companies for equipment, they had a brand new boiler up and running within two weeks of that initial Petro sales call.
“The boiler was donated by Blackman Supply,” said Gonzalez. “My employer, Carlin, donated the oil burner and steam controls for the boiler.”
He said Williams was incredibly grateful.
“He was a sick man, an elderly man. He had just returned from the hospital and he was coming home to no heat,” said Gonzalez. “It was a great turnout for him. He got a much-needed heating system, and it didn’t cost him anything.”
The Williams project was a great fit for the organization; which strives to help out only the most needy people.
“For us at the local levels, the chapters, we try to pick a worthy recipient. And there are general guidelines, but the only written guideline is that the recipient must be financially needy and cannot pay for any part of the project,” said Gonzalez. “So we can’t use Oil Heat Cares to help them pay for a new boiler — it’s either everything or nothing.”
To that end, OHC has a budget of just $2,500 per project. And with a boiler, the maintenance and all the peripheral equipment, that can’t cover everything.
“Everything must be donated to the homeowner. Oil Heat Cares provides $2,500 in funding to assist in the materials; which certainly does not cover all the needed materials for most projects,” said Gonzalez. “So that puts us in a position where we have to go out and ask for donations from manufactures and wholesalers – wherever we can get the materials and products donated.”
The installation must come at no cost to the homeowner.
“The labor must be totally volunteer or provided by the company,” said Gonzalez. “So the company can pay its own people to do the project but cannot charge the customer for labor.”
Dave Bessette the chairperson of the board at OHC said that each project overcomes even the stiffest competition in an effort to help those who need it most.
“Out on a job, you might have technicians from other companies who are competitors, but they take the name off their shirt and don’t even think about it,” said Bessette. “They just do the install and at the end of the day, they’ve made somebody happy— somebody who thought something like this would never happen to them.”
He said it’s not always easy either, with jobs coming in off hours between paying customers.
“They go in on their own time. They do it either Saturday or Sunday—some jobs have gone during the week well into the night. One of the guys did a job that started at four in the afternoon and they finished up at midnight,” said Bessette. “All on their own time —they’re just out there helping the people that need our help.”
He said that anyone can nominate someone to receive help from the OHC program, but most of their work comes from within OESP.
“Almost everything we do comes out of the OESP chapters. Whether it comes from a member’s company and one of the technicians finds something that needs to be replaced—that’s usually where the leads come from,” said Bessette. “Then what happens is a supervisor or myself will go out and look at the site and discuss with the homeowner what we could possibly do if they meet our criteria.”
He said the need is usually clear, so they don’t get hung up on background checks or call up the homeowner’s bank.
“We don’t go looking at financials or anything, everyone has a pretty good sense of whether someone is pulling your chain or not. You can look around and see that these people need help,” said Bessette. “Then someone goes out and evaluates what we need to do and how we’re going to do it. Then that person reports back to me and I put a small synopsis together and email it out to the board of directors. They give me their feedback, votes or questions.”
He said since the need is typically quite dire, they work as fast as they can.
“Things turn around pretty quick. Usually within 48 hours of that email I have at least 10 members of the 12-member board as to whether it’s a ‘go’ or not,” said Bessette.
He said there are a few rules for the projects beyond the need.
“As a rule, it’s a replacement of the heating appliance directly. And it’s strictly oil that we do,” said Bessette. “Even though a lot of us do gas, we strictly do oil.”
He said they install tanks if needed, and upgrade the oil line, wiring and everything, but the most common project is a boiler and burner.
He said OHC is a great way to build a positive image for the industry.
“Nobody in the gas industry does what the oil people do with Oil Heat Cares does. A gas company never donates a piece of equipment and the installation. The PHCC—a plumbing organization that’s made up of plumbers who are gas fitters—they don’t do it,” said Bessette. “This just raises the oil people a couple rungs up that ladder.”
He said manufacturers in the industry are always happy to help with projects.
“We’ve had a lot of manufacturers donate equipment,” said Bessette. “Brian Coyne form Rock Tank just says, ‘Yup, you got a tank. Just tell me which supply house you want it to come out of.’ Peerless has donated stuff, Energy Kinetics has donated stuff Weil-McClain — the list just goes on and on.”
As for fundraising, they take donations on their website at OilHeatCares.com and also hold fundraising events.
“Every year we have an Oil Heat Cares ride. It first started out with Don Farrell, who is an avid bicyclist. He got some friends together and they got sponsors and they made this ride,” said Bessette, noting that their fundraising has grown significantly in the past years.
“Out of that grew a motorcycle ride; which we have almost every year,” said Bessette.
Both Bessette and Gonzalez say it’s a lot of hard work sometimes, but the gratitude from the homeowners is overwhelming. Williams was all smiles when the new boiler kicked on and he could finally unplug the space heaters.
“He was very, very grateful,” said Gonzalez. “They always are, by the way.”
“They think we’re angels. A lot of them are elderly, many have illnesses they’re dealing with so they just feel so blessed to have a group like ours go in there and help them and it not cost them anything,” said Bessette.
Despite that hard work for the installers, most volunteer for project after project.
“Sometimes it’s overwhelming for myself and the team doing the. You know, you’re getting a note from this person who’s just had someone who’s done something nice for them. They may be elderly and never had a break in their life, and here they’ve got something they appreciate more than anything,” said Bessette. “It really is a great feeling.”
You can get involved by donating funds or time. Ask your OESP chapter how to get involved and how to nominate needy homeowners for an Oil Heat Cares project.