TOWNSEND -- In a specially scheduled Board of Selectmen meeting, the open session of which lasted all of five minutes, the board unanimously voted to approve an Abram French fund request of $500 to assist with a bill of a local family in need. The urgent matter could not wait until the board's regularly scheduled meeting next week, said Town Administrator Andy Sheehan.

"I was trying to push this off to our next meeting so we wouldn't have to have a special meeting tonight, but the people receiving this assistance are up against the wall with their mortgage bill," said Sheehan. "If we waited until next week, it would have put them beyond their grace period. That's why Renee asked us to meet tonight to address it."

The Abram French fund is a trust used to help residents in need of one-time financial assistance, said Renee Fossey, chairwoman of the Abram French Fund Committee. It was established in 1938 through the will of Townsend resident Martha Homer, the same benefactor who left the town the West Townsend Reading Room.

Homer left the town $10,000 for the purpose of using the interest it collected to help residents who were down on their luck. Homer wrote in her will that the names of the residents remain confidential, said Fossey.

Generally, the committee is able to issue payments, but due to a high volume of recent requests, the fund is low on money. In such cases, said Fossey, the committee can recommend that the selectmen approve the payment of the bill through other similarly set up trust funds that have been donated for the assistance of residents in need.

Homer's will also stipulated that the fund was only to be used "for relief of worthy residents of Townsend of industrious and temperate habits who may be in need of assistance through their misfortune and not through their vices."

Such residents can apply to the committee for assistance through the fund. Residents need to show proof of residence and of need with documents and through talking with committee members.

The money is often used for a one-time payment of a certain bill. The payment always goes directly to the provider, not to the individual.

"We also like to see that people have a plan for the future," said Fossey.

The committee is currently only able to help out with relatively small payments, said Fossey, because to the low yield from the interest. This is in part due to inflation and in part to nationally low interest rates.

"At this point, it's a very small amount of money because the interest is making so little," she said. "At one time in the past it could pay someone's mortgage for a month. We could give them an amount of money that was really going to mean something."

Because of that, she said, the fund is not for people who are in desperate need of a substantial amount, but for people who could be aided by a one-time, small payment. Often, the cases are for extraordinary events, such as an injury that has caused someone to be out of work for a few months but who will shortly be able to return.

"We are not going to be able to help somebody that is in desperate straits that should be receiving assistance through the government," said Fossey. "It's a judgment call as to whether we think this money is going to help a person get out of straits they're in or if in another month they're going to be calling someone else for assistance."

The volume of applications comes in peaks and valleys.

"Some months nobody applies for it; other months, four of five people are applying at the same time," said Fossey.

Generally around the holidays, the committee receives more applications.

"Around Christmas there seems to be more of a need and during the heating season," she said. Additionally, she said, "Whenever the economy is bad, there's absolutely more need."

In other business, selectmen entered into an executive session to conduct contract negotiations for Fire Chief Donald Klein and to discuss the purchase, lease, value or acquisition of real property.