About fifteen years ago, Dallas Gigrich and his wife decided to help people who couldn’t afford to heat their homes in the winter. They run a business that removes old, unused oil tanks from homes near Seattle, Washington. They realized that whenever they removed a tank, it usually contained unused oil. Sometimes, a lot of oil. When Gigrich’s wife, a teacher, said that some of her students lived in unheated houses, they realized how they could put this surplus oil to use. At last report, the Gigrich couple were giving away about three month’s worth of heating oil to 200 households every year.
They’ve done it by founding a non-profit called HEAT, short for Home Energy Assistance Team, in order to organize the effort. As far back as 2006, they were working year-round to distribute oil to those in need of winter warmth. During the coldest winter months, they said they would get two to three calls each day from people in need. When you do the numbers, you see the full significance of this generosity. In 2005, the Gigrich couple gave away more than 100,000 gallons of home heating oil. At current heating oil prices, that’s a donation of $400,000 to fellow citizens who can’t afford to keep their homes heated.
As the 57-year-old benefactor told People magazine in 2008, “”I grew up poor,” says Gigrich. “I know what it feels like to need.”
He remembers the moment the idea for all this came to him: when he was standing in the home of one customer, bundled up because the place was so cold. “I was freezing. I realized I could sell them the oil.” Instead, he decided to donate the oil, rather than sell it.
People the Gigrich couple has helped include Vicki Bloom and Patricia Quaring. HEAT provided 150 gallons of oil to Bloom, a mother of three who had just lost her job as a clerk. That’s about a third of an average home’s heating oil consumption. Quaring’s a former day-care provider who has been unable to work as a result of degenerative arthritis and a herniated disk. What’s most instructive and inspiring about Gigrich’s compassion is how it grows naturally from what he does to support himself. He founded his oil tank removal service, Tanks by Dallas, in 1995, in Lake Forest Park, north of Seattle and makes his living removing oil from homes. His brilliance was to simply take one further step and give the oil away rather than dispose of it. (Laws require that all unused oil tanks be removed, or at least pumped dry and filled with something to prevent leakage into the ground.) Gigrich has been commended by his state’s governor, and was celebrated in People magazine in 2008, as one of that year’s heroes.
Are there ways we could voluntarily help others by using the skills we’ve developed in our work, or in the things we do during the average day? Do you know someone who is doing something like the Gigrich project, helping others by doing what they know how to do best? I’d love to hear your stories. True happiness comes when we reach out to others, doesn’t it. What do you think?