How the Harshest Winter in Massachusetts History is Hurting Our Most Vulnerable Families

Family Fund partners in our communities are seeing dramatically increased need for help as a result of this unprecedented, unrelenting winter.

The winter of 2015 has brought many challenges to our region and affected nearly every person in our community. We’ve been through record snow, travel bans, and school cancellations.  We’ve shoveled endlessly, worked from home, and stayed inside. But for families who live paycheck to paycheck and don’t have the option to work from home, they quickly found themselves making a choice between paying for rent or paying for heat.

United Way works with more than 20 community organizations in our region as part of our Family Fund that supports basic needs.  We’ve been in touch with our partners about the challenges they’ve faced this winter, and they shared with us what they are seeing and what many families are experiencing.


This “perfect storm” of winter conditions – harsh weather, extreme cold, crippling transit, and lost business and wages – has resulted in many families exhausting their limited resources to heat their homes.

According to Quincy Community Action Programs fuel assistance program, 614 deliverable fuel clients do not have enough benefits to receive the minimum required deliverable amount.

“A major increase in calls for assistance came from people who use oil, propane gas, or other deliverable combustible.  We recorded 830 calls of this nature so far in February alone.  In most cases the Agency cannot assist due to the lack of funding for these energy sources.” – Greater Lawrence Community Action Council

“We have been inundated with requests from seniors over the last two weeks asking for help with heat emergencies and roof issues due to the excessive snow.” –ESAC Boston


The Red Cross reports that winter months are typically the busiest time of year for disaster services, but the extreme cold has caused many clients’ pipes to freeze, and the tremendous volume of snow has resulted in catastrophic roof collapses and power outages that displace people from their homes. As a result, in just the last weeks of February, their team in Massachusetts has seen the volume of clients in need of assistance nearly quadruple.

“There is a client who is living from paycheck to paycheck (and is under a court agreement to pay her rent timely).  She works at McDonald’s and had her hours reduced (as no business) and so is struggling to be able to pay her rent and other expenses.” –Greater Boston Legal Services


As a result of travel bans and public transportation challenges, people who rely on local food banks couldn’t even get there for nearly a month.  The hunger issue is tied closely to poverty and to the limited choices low-income families have: whether to pay for the rent and associated utilities, cost of transportation, and other expenses, or purchasing healthy food.  When school is out, a parent has to stay home from work to stay with the child. They lose a day’s pay. Many of these families also rely on school breakfast and lunch to feed a child.

“The day after the blizzard which brought over 2 feet, we opened and actually saw over 30 families come in. They were so desperate for help and so appreciative that we were available to them.”  -David Andre, Red Cross Director of Food and Nutrition Programs

United Way’s Family Fund helps individuals and families like these. Last year, the Family Fund helped over 22,000 individuals and families with critical financial assistance for these basic necessities.

For more information on the Family Fund or to donate, visit