MANCHESTER >> This winter — so far — hasn't proven to be one of those New England classics of freezing cold weather and mounds of snow as far as the eye can see. But it's still early.
Even so, when the temperature outside is more moderate compared to, let's say, last year, that still doesn't mean residents don't need heating fuel to keep their homes comfortable. And while the price of heating oil may have plummeted compared to, again, last year, that doesn't mean that folks who need a little help to pay their heating bill still don't need some financial support, said Martha Robertson, the organizer of Ski for Heat.
The drop in oil and other fuel prices simply means her organization can support more people, she said.
"Even if it's 30 degrees outside instead of zero, it's still cold," she said.
Ski for Heat, a small not-for-profit organization Robertson started in 2001 to raise funds for low income individuals and families, began as an idea where she and her twin sister donated some money — about $100 — to help neighbors pay for some heating oil as a Christmas gift to each other, rather than buying presents. And it grew from there. This year her fundraising goal is $20,000.
A large chunk of those funds are raised when skiers hit the slopes — this year the big day is Sunday, Jan. 31 — and donate funds for the cause. Those taking part receive either free or special ski for heat trail and lift pass rates. This year, Bromley Mountain and Wild Wings in Peru are the local areas taking part in it. Bromley is offering a special $40 lift ticket that day, half of which will be donated to Ski for Heat
The funds raised are turned over the Bennington Rutland Opportunity Council, or BROC, which them distributes the money to qualifying individuals, Robertson said. BROC has more latitude and discretion with how they share the money, so individuals who might not qualify under stricter federal guidelines can be helped out.
The funds can be used for any type of fuel source residents use to heat their homes. But BROC's potential help doesn't end there, she said.
Advice on finances, weatherization and energy efficiency are also on offer, she added.
"They will go over it and try to help them avoid getting into that crisis situation again," she said. "It's not just 'here's the money.'"
And while screening folks for heating assistance, they might also be able to learn about who might be in need of other kinds of assistance, such as food or health insurance, Robertson said.
But in addition to fun on the slopes on Jan. 31, there's also fun to be had at the Eagles Club in Manchester on Saturday, Jan. 23, when Bob Stannard and his motley crew of dangerous bluesmen take to the stage in a fundraising benefit concert.
This will be the seventh time Stannard has rounded up a group of friends and fellow musicians to perform a rollicking and very danceable concert of blues. This time, many of same musicians who performed last year are back — Jeff Salisbury on drums, Kenny B. on bass, David Bain on keyboards, and Dennis Wilmott and John Falk on guitars. Stannard added that he "wouldn't be surprised" if Brad Tyler, whose company, Tyler Electric, is sponsoring the band, was called upon to help out on drums for a number or two.
The musicians who make up the band have played with some seriously famous musicians over the years — Albert King and Luther "Guitar" Johnson among them — and all are top caliber players from around the state. They start with a high level of understanding about the tunes they'll be playing, which is good because the band doesn't get a lot of time to rehearse or practice together, giving everyone's busy touring schedules. Instead, they get a set list and some mp3 files sent to work with before the show, Stannard said.
"If I were playing with a high school band, this wouldn't work," he said. "But these are absolute professional blues players — I can send them material which they are already familiar with."
Sometimes Stannard enjoys sneaking in a surprise arrangement or version shortly before showtime, just to keep things interesting, he said.
You could call it creative tension or leaving the comfort zone, he said.
"These guys are so good they just rise to it and I've never given them anything they didn't knock out of the park," he said.
The crowd can sense that, which adds to the atmosphere of the evening, which involves more than sitting around listening to mournful blues — this is an upbeat evening where dancing is definitely encouraged, she said.
The benefit concert featuring Stannard's "Dangerous Bluesmen" is part of Vermont Arts 2016, a project of the Vermont Arts Council.
The show will start at 7 p.m. and there's a suggested donation of $20, but everyone is invited and any amount of money that can be tossed into the hat is welcome. More information is available about the concert and the Ski for Heat ski day on skiforheat.org. Those wishing to take part in the ski day should register at skiforheat.org.
"The whole idea for Ski for Heat is that anyone who wants to participate, can," Robertson said.