Delaware non-profits prepare for increasing gas prices

With more gas hikes headed our way, volunteers at a local non-profit organization wonder if the prices will keep them from doing their jobs.

That’s because one thing could get in the way of volunteers at Meals on Wheels in Sussex County, who dedicate a big portion of their time to delivering food to the elderly, and that’s gas prices.  Now, many are worried.  “Sure like everybody else, that’s kind of an expensive situation for anybody…. Sure I’m worried,” says Irv Eberhart, who has been volunteering for the Meals on Wheels organization for almost a decade.

Some of the volunteers are already trying to avoid the pain at the pump like Carl Loricco, who recently traded in his truck for a more fuel efficient car.  “I used to drive a truck all the time, and it was getting down to like 17 miles to a gallon of gas,” said volunteer Carl Loricco.  He can now get up to 40 miles to the gallon when he hits the road.  For volunteers who aren’t in the position to do what Carl did, the non profit organization has a program in place to reimburse volunteers for their gas mileage. 

“About 80 percent of our drivers right now don’t take the check, they donate it back to Meals on Wheels and get a tax letter at the end of the year with their donations,” said Meals on Wheels Volunteer Coordinator Morgan Whalen.  However, administrators fear that volunteers may start to keep those checks if gas prices continue to rise.

“The typical flow is that the gas spikes in the spring, kind of plateaus in the summer, and retreats a little bit in the fall, but right now what we’re seeing is kind of unprecedented,” said AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Jim Lardear.

In fact, AAA says this is just the beginning for drivers who will soon see gas prices beat the highest price on record in Delaware, the 2008 price of $4.07 in just a few weeks.  “AAA Mid-Atlantic is predicting that gas will spike about four dollars and 25 cents a gallon before Memorial Day.”  According to AAA officials, that means consumers may start to monitor their spending habits.  As for what’s leading to the increase at the pump Lardear added, “The biggest cost to the price of a gallon that we pay is the price of the crude oil that it takes to refine the gasoline from.”

Meanwhile, also watching prices at the pump closely are Delaware transportation officials who say the spike isn’t being looked at as a negative just yet, mostly because some good has come out it.  “We’re finding that a lot of our buses have standing room only loads, generally you get that when you get a spike in gas prices, you get a spike in public transit ridership.  So that’s what we’re looking at right now is how can we operationally both pay our gas bills and two ….meet the needs and demands that the public has for us,” said Shailen Bhatt, Secretary of the Delaware Department of Transportation.

Last year, the transportation authority spent more than $8 million in operational costs including gas.  But what will happen if gas reaches the five dollar mark?  “We’re looking at that as the price goes up just like the airlines when the prices go up, our costs go up, the difference between the airlines and our agency is that we can’t pass rising costs onto consumers, we have to eat it ourselves,” said Bhatt.

But not everyone can afford to do so, especially the folks at Hillside Oil Company in Newark. The company has six oil delivery trucks and five service vehicles that are in use year round.  “So not only is the price higher, but it costs us more to make deliveries so it compounds the problem when diesel prices get so high,” said Bill Tuerke, the office manager at Hillside Oil Company.

Back at the Meals on Wheels site, although volunteers are more cautious these days about their gas mileage, some of them plan to just deal with the gas hike the best way they can.  “I just think there’s a need for that in the community, someday I maybe needing Meals on Wheels delivered to me or my wife so it’s a want to give back type situation,” said Eberhart.

“Our volunteers are the backbone of our organization, if we didn’t have them, these meals wouldn’t be delivered every day.  So if it does get to the point where they can’t drive because of gas prices, that will absolutely hurt our organization,” added Whalen.

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