Fueling Hope: The Fuel Relief Fund Provides Energy Aid in the Wake of Disaster

PMAA Journal | In The Spirit | Spring 2016

A while back, I came across some information about the Fuel Relief Fund, a nonprofit organization that provides critically important fuel assistance to victims in the aftermath of natural disasters. I was so impressed by the organization and its mission that, ever since then, I have felt compelled to share the news about it. I’d like to think that spreading the word about the fund is my way of contributing to the organization and the good work that it does.

The idea for the Fuel Relief Fund took shape in 1992, when Hurricane Andrew ravaged the coast of Florida. California businessman Ted Honcharik, CEO of Pacific Tank Lines, had family in that area and through his contact with them became aware of how the lack of fuel in the disaster area was hampering victims’ access to food, water and shelter. And it wasn’t just individuals. Relief organizations and government response agencies were also hamstrung by the lack of gasoline to run generators, truck in supplies, and operate ambulances and other relief vehicles. It was apparent to Honcharik that some type of emergency fuel response plan was sorely needed when disaster strikes, and he set about creating such a plan.

Fuel Relief FundHoncharik’s brainchild, the Fuel Relief Fund secures and transports fuel to disaster sites, where it is distributed by volunteers. It’s not just gasoline — the fund also provides diesel, heating oil, coal and other types of fuel to individuals, first responders, humanitarian groups, law enforcement agencies, hospitals, nursing homes and other types of care facilities, as well as other disaster relief agencies such as the Red Cross and World Vision that need fuel to carry out their work. Crew members working for the fund purchase fuel as near to the disaster site as possible, then arrange for its transport and distribution, providing it free of charge to those in need.

The Fuel Relief Fund’s first deployment occurred in 2005 when Honcharik and others brought a tanker of gasoline to Mississippi and Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina, distributing it to people and organizations along the ravaged Gulf Coast. The fund achieved formal nonprofit status in 2009 and since that first deployment has rushed fuel aid to six disaster areas, including Haiti after the 2010 earthquake; Japan after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami; and New Jersey after Superstorm Sandy in 2012. The fund’s most recent deployment took place when it sent fuel aid to Nepal after an earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale rocked the area around Lamjung on April 25, 2015.

One of the truly remarkable aspects of this organization is the fact that all of its crew and board members volunteer their time. Melisa Lindros, the fund’s executive director, is the only paid staff person. In addition to a small office in Riverside, California, the fund has an office in the Netherlands staffed by volunteers. “We needed to establish a presence in Europe because our partnerships and contacts in that area of the world have helped us to respond more quickly and effectively when deploying aid outside North America,” she stated.

The Fuel Relief Fund reached a new milestone recently, signing a strategic partnership agreement with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA). As an independent support partner of UN OCHA, the Fuel Relief Fund will supply not only individuals, but support the entire humanitarian relief system in major global disasters of the future. Though no funding will come from this arrangement, the partnership provides a tremendous platform for the Fuel Relief Fund to fulfill a critical service, helping to expand the humanitarian impact of disaster response and to reach many more people in need. With the growth in number, scale and impact of disasters, the need for the Fuel Relief Fund’s work continues to grow each year.

“In addition to providing immediate relief on deployments, our goal is to increase public awareness of our new First Response Disaster Fund and of the critical role that fuel relief can play in the success or failure of emergency response to a natural disaster,” noted Lindros. She serves as the organization’s liaison to site agencies, and she develops and implements strategy, partnerships and fundraising, including the annual golf tournament and fishing tournament. “I also do a lot of public outreach and social media oversight,” she noted. “Since the aid we are able to provide is directly proportional to the resources we have on hand, and since private and corporate donations furnish the bulk of our resources, we want to get the word out as broadly as possible so that we can reach more people more effectively when it matters most.”

I’m so proud to report Melisa Lindros’s observation that the fuel industry has been supportive in the development of this very worthwhile organization. With its latest growth and expansion as a leading international humanitarian partner, I’ll be continuing to follow their efforts with interest.

© 2016 Spirit® Petroleum