When winter temperatures plummet, heating costs go up. Many low-income Americans can't afford to pay their surging heating bills without sacrificing other necessities. While many programs are in place to help those in need stay warm during winter, in the northeastern state of New Hampshire, an extra helping hand has come from an unexpected place-a local middle school.
It all started when 7th grade teacher Robert Schur learned that people in his neighborhood were struggling to pay their heating oil bills.
"My brother, Mark Schur, is a driver for Buxton Oil Company," he says. "And he had come home with some stories of, especially, elderly people crying after they got their oil delivery bill because the prices had gone up and their budget didn't fit it."
When Mr. Schur shared these stories with his students at the Cooperative Middle School, the youngsters recognized the injustice. "It's not right to have somebody like your neighbor really cold and you have a fireplace, you are really warm and have a lot of money," observed 12-year-old Ayden Rainey. He is one of more than one hundred of Mr. Schur's students who decided to do something about it. "I wanted to help people because I've never had no heat in my house before, but I've been really cold and I know that if they feel that way, we should help them."
With Mr. Schur's help, Ayden and his classmates formed a group they called Kids Who Care. "They were the ones who came up with the name," Mr. Schur says. "The kids have done some activities. They bring in their leftover money from their lunch money. They were selling hot chocolate and tea and cookies, that sort of thing. When they were lighting the Christmas tree downtown in Exeter City, the kids spent 4 or 5 hours down there, and it was a pretty cold night. They were interacting with people in town and so forth, and they really did a nice job with it."
After just two months, Kids Who Care has raised and donated $2,000 to Buxton Oil, the company that delivers heating oil to the neighborhood. "It's just a good group that wants to help," company president Donna Buxton says. The money the students raised helped pay the bills for a lot of people in the area. "We just show up, make a delivery and leave a card on the door from the 'Kids Who Care' and off we go," she says. "It sometimes takes the burden off the shoulder of someone who has to decide whether they need fuel for the car, heat for the home or food on the table."
The kids have gotten something, too. Mr. Schur says the project has given them some experience with public service and taught them a lesson in the hard realities of life. "It certainly, I think, is raising the awareness of the fact that things are not all nice out there for everybody," he says. "It's easy to have a one-shot thing and raise money with a car wash or something, but to do that over time is impressive and it's a credit to the kids."
Being able to help their community makes the kids behind Kids Who Care feel good, according to 12-year-old Julianne Kneeland. "I think that most people think that kids don't really understand these things and that we don't really care about other people, but we do," she says.
When Kids Who Care started their effort, they didn't expect that so many local newspapers and radio and TV stations would be interested in reporting their story. But the public attention has helped them raise even more money to keep even more people warm for the rest of the winter.