WOONSOCKET — As the Northeast brushes off the effects of its latest snowstorm, “Keep the Heat On,” the diocesan heating assistance program, continues to offer emergency heating funds to Rhode Island residents who have exhausted all other forms of public and private assistance.
One Woonsocket resident, Felix Antonio, was the recipient of an emergency 50-gallon shipment of heating oil delivered to his home after he contacted the diocesan Office of Community Services and Catholic Charities earlier this month. Antonio, a member of All Saints Parish, is originally from the Dominican Republic and lived in Puerto Rico before immigrating to Rhode Island, where he has lived for 10 years. He lives with his wife and two younger children on a quiet street in Woonsocket’s Oak Grove neighborhood.
Earlier this month, Antonio spoke with Rhode Island Catholic about his experiences with the program during an interview conducted in his native Spanish. Antonio Andreu Galván, coordinator of the Catholic Charities northern Rhode Island satellite office, accompanied the interview to serve as translator. Andreu’s office, located at the All Saints Parish rectory, regularly receives calls requesting heating and other forms of assistance and coordinates with oil companies to deliver “Keep the Heat On”-sponsored shipments to those in need.
The interview took place in the family home, where Antonio, a gracious host, spoke comfortably about his family and parish life. Sitting on his living room couch, he explained the accident and resulting physical injury that disrupted his work life and led to his needing to apply for “Keep the Heat On” assistance.
“It’s been four years since he’s been working. He has an injury in one shoulder and an injury in the other shoulder,” translated Andreu, as Antonio pointed to the injuries in turn.
Antonio used to work in a warehouse, a physically demanding job. However, in 2011, the company he worked for went into bankruptcy, and an injury sustained during a softball game prevented him from going into a similar line of work. Suffering from tendonitis and unable to return to work, Antonio tried to apply for disability benefits, but was told he did not qualify.
“He has no strength in his shoulder,” explained Andreu. “His doctor in December told him he has lost 70–80 percent of the strength in his shoulder.”
Antonio’s wife, Mirabel, works as a housekeeper at a nearby Marriott hotel, while her husband takes care of the children and does work around the house. Relying on one salary, the family has difficulty keeping up with the cost of their heating bill during the wintertime and were in the process of applying for LIHEAP, the public Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, when a mix-up in mail delivery caused their application to be delayed.
Running low on heating oil and unable to receive any other assistance until the application went through, Antonio reached out to the diocesan satellite office, where he spoke by phone with Andreu. After receiving the family’s information and confirming they qualified for “Keep the Heat On,” Andreu arranged for 50 gallons of heating oil to be immediately delivered to the home by a local oil company. The shipment, Antonio said, arrived quickly and sustained the family until other arrangements could be made.
“I never thought I would look for assistance,” Antonio said through his translator, explaining his frustration that he is not able to work. He hopes he may eventually be able to return to his job, though his health remains uncertain.
Meanwhile, he devotes himself to his family and parish, where both he and his wife are active in the community and recently attended spiritual retreats. Antonio’s two school-aged children attend Woonsocket public schools, where his son, 14, plays basketball and baseball and his daughter, 12, has an interest in music. He and his wife also have two older children and two grandchildren.
Following the interview, Andreu reflected that the Antonio family’s situation is not unusual among “Keep the Heat On” recipients, who tend to use the program as an emergency service during times of great need rather than a long-term benefit. Recounting his experience as diocesan satellite office coordinator, he explained that many participants also apply to LIHEAP, but because the public program involves a time-consuming application process and only operates between November and March, families are often left with a gap in home energy coverage when they are unable to receive any assistance.
During that time, houses may become unbearably cold and oil tanks can sustain damage caused by running completely empty. By providing emergency shipments of heating oil with minimal delay, as well as funding other forms of home heating, “Keep the Heat On” strives to fill this gap for low-income residents. For many Rhode Island families, the program can mean the difference between an enjoyable New England winter and one spent without the basic need of a warm home.