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Originally published December 28, 2009 at 10:04 PM | Page modified December 28, 2009 at 10:46 PM

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Nicole Brodeur

Heating-oil angels hate to ask, but ...

Dallas and Randi Gigrich donate unused heating oil taken from decommissioned tanks (which is their business) and deliver it to those who can't afford to stay warm.

Seattle Times staff columnist

How to help

Go to www.tanksbydallas.net and click "Donate"

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Some people's hearts are bigger than their wallets.

So it is for Dallas and Randi Gigrich, who four years ago founded a charity called the Home Energy Assistance Team, or H.E.A.T.

They donate unused heating oil taken from decommissioned tanks (which is their business) and deliver it to those who can't afford to stay warm.

They started H.E.A.T. in memory of their daughter, Jessica, who died in 2001 of sporadic hemolytic uremic syndrome, which is similar to E. coli.

The Gigriches estimate they have given away — rather than resold — 100,000 gallons of oil a year for the last four years. Last winter, the average price for heating oil was just under $3 per gallon — so that's a donation of about $300,000.

That's not including what it cost the Gigriches in mileage and manpower to get the oil from donors' tanks and deliver it to those in need. Often, the Gigriches were doing these good deeds when they could have been tending to paying customers.

Now, it's the Gigriches who are out in the cold. They are struggling to pay their bills and are getting food from a food bank.

And, as much as it pains them, they are turning off the H.E.A.T. this winter. Doing for others has just plain done them in.

"We're trying, but we're having problems trying to pay our employees and our own gas bill," said Dallas Gigrich, 54.

It wasn't just the charity that put them here. Randi had a long hospitalization earlier this year.

One client who had them decommission her oil tank refused to pay the $10,000 fee, saying the Gigriches had contaminated her soil. They told me they spent $1,500 for a lawyer to defend themselves.

And then there have been clients who have had their tanks decommissioned before putting their homes on the market, only to lose them to foreclosure.

"We do the work and they disappear and we can't find them," Gigrich said.

Earlier this year, it seemed H.E.A.T. would survive whatever the elements or the economy threw at the couple.

They were featured in People magazine, in my column and on local news programs. In May, Dallas Gigrich appeared on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," one of 10 people featured for contributing to those in need.

But even face time with Lady O didn't drum up the donations the Gigriches had hoped for. They got small gifts from all over the country, maybe $1,000 total. Certainly not the windfall that kind of exposure might bring.

Did Oprah cut them a check?

"No," Gigrich said. "But it was nice of her to do what she did."

I'm telling you about the Gigriches because they need help — to help others through the cold months to come.

"I'm not asking for myself," Gigrich said. "I am asking for these people."

About 200 have written letters asking for heating oil. The pleas fill a folder that Gigrich keeps beside him in his work truck.

"I see it everywhere I go."

There are government programs for those who need oil. But Gigrich knows there are many who won't ask for help — just like him.

"I grew up really poor and I don't like asking people for anything," he said. "You know the proverb: 'Pride goeth before a fall.' "

I'd hate for the Gigriches to fall. Because if they do, it means the rest of us will feel a little colder.

Nicole Brodeur's column appears Tuesday and Friday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or nbrodeur@seattletimes.com.

She hates to ask, but has to.

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About Nicole Brodeur

My column is more a conversation with readers than a spouting of my own views. I like to think that, in writing, I lay down a bridge between readers and me. It is as much their space as mine. And it is a place to tell the stories that, otherwise, may not get into the paper.
nbrodeur@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2334

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