News & Features

Getting Winter Ready in the Flathead

Various programs in the valley can assist with the high costs of keeping warm in the cold season

The days are short and the darkness is getting longer. The thermometer readings begin dipping, and there’s frost and the occasional snowfall on the ground in the mornings.

Winter weather is knocking on the door, and that means it’s time to bundle up in the Flathead, both with seasonal clothing and sealing up our houses to keep the heat in and the cold out.

For the two dozen or so knitting volunteers at the Retired Senior and Volunteer Program (RSVP), a division of the county’s Agency on Aging department, the cold weather marked the time they’ve been waiting for all year, when they could finally give the hats and mittens they spent a year knitting to children at local schools.

According to volunteer coordinator Leslie Potter, the RSVP volunteers who participate in the Winter Ready Montana Program spend all year crocheting, knitting, quilting, and sewing hat and mitten sets, infant items, and quilts for Flathead County schools, including the Northwest Montana Head Start Preschool.

Last week, volunteers took their warm creations to two Head Start programs, one in Kalispell and one in Columbia Falls, to give hats and mittens to the kids there.

Extra sets were then taken to other elementary schools around the valley, to ensure the children who need warm clothes for the winter have them, Potter said. But there’s always a need for more volunteers who can knit or crochet or sew to join the program, she said; those interested can inquire with RSVP at 406-758-5712.

RSVP isn’t the only group working to make winter a little warmer for those in need – at the end of October, a group of Kalispell firefighters provided free, new winter coats for elementary students through the Operation Warm program, purchased with funds from the Kalispell Firefighters Association Benevolent Fund.

Adults can find assistance for winter preparedness as well. Community Action Partnership of Northwest Montana is the epicenter of winter-ready programs, and Margie Jones, the weatherization department director, said it’s the time of year to see if a household qualifies for aid.

Filling out one application means a person or household can find out if they qualify for multiple programs.

“They can come into the main building (on Kalispell’s Main Street) and get an application for the Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP) and they fill out one application for getting help with energy costs and then they get onto the weatherization list,” Jones said.

Applications can be downloaded online as well, and then filled out and mailed in.

LIEAP assists those who make no more than 60 percent of the estimated state median income for 2014 if a household consists of seven or fewer members, or 150 percent of the federal poverty level for households of eight or more people.

The program helps about 5,000 people in Flathead, Lake, Lincoln and Sanders counties, Jones said.

Once a household has applied for LIEAP, they’re also placed on the list for weatherization, a program that helps reduce energy costs for low-income households through measures such as adding insulation, decreasing air filtration from doors and windows, and performing efficiency and energy checks on heating systems.

However, due to limited funds, Jones said fewer than 300 homes can be weatherized each year.

“They all will go on eventually to the weatherization list, we work year-round. But we only do about 250 homes a year,” she said.

Jones noted that NorthWestern Energy provides $250,000 for weatherization, and Bonneville Power Administration provides $150,000.

Utility companies and nonprofit agencies also administer the Energy Share Montana program, which provides finances for Montanans in emergency situations when it comes to paying for high-energy costs. The program isn’t an annual subsidy, but helps keep the heat on in dire situations.

For more information on Energy Share Montana, visit www.energysharemt.com or call 1-888-779-7589.

To contact Community Action Partnership’s weatherization department, call 406-755-7563 or 1-888-750-7360 or visit www.capnm.net.

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