Melissa Hines was the first person through the door when home heating help became available Monday morning.
Hundreds of people were bundled up behind her in the dark, hoping to get help paying their heating bills.
The Macon-Bibb County Economic Opportunity Council accepted applications from the first 250 people in the line, which stretched around St. Paul AME Church at 7 a.m. Its part of a nationwide energy assistance program.
Each person approved for the assistance will receive between $310 and $350, depending on income and family size, said Jimmie Samuel, the councils executive director.
Hines camped out starting at 9 p.m. Saturday night. When church began Sunday, she moved to a gas station across the street and returned when services were over.
Hines ate salad and hard-boiled eggs from a cooler. She kept entertained by watching Blade, Saw III and a Harry Potter movie on a portable DVD player.
Disabled after nine foot surgeries, a back problem and other medical issues, Hines lives on a fixed income and needs the money to help keep her heater on.
The council provided portable toilets for the men and women who lined up in advance. Fast food bags, coffee cups and other trash littered the church grounds.
Although people are asked not to camp out, they inevitably do, Samuel said.
Still, he said the first-come, first-served system is better than a lottery.
Applicants ages 65 and older lined up for assistance last month. Homebound applicants are handled on a case-by-case basis, Samuel said.
But waiting for hours in the cold was too much for Rene Tompkins.
My time is limited on this line, she said, explaining that she wasnt able to take care of her ill sister while she waited in line, only to be turned away. If theyd taken another 50 people, I would have been in.
Tompkins is a former project manager for the New York City Parks and Recreation Department who moved south more than a decade ago. In Macon, she worked as a cashier at the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame until she became disabled and unable to work.
She said she wont be lining up for heating assistance again.
Sally West also camped out hoping to get help, but she was turned away before she was in sight of the door.
West, who became disabled after injuring her back in a car accident nine years ago, needed a walker to help her as she stood in line.
She arrived about 3 p.m. Sunday and stood in line with classmates from Virginia College, where shes training to be a medical assistant. Shes got six months left and then she hopes shell be able to work again.
West said shell be back Friday morning when the assistance program takes more applications starting at 7 a.m.
Youve got to keep trying, she said.
To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.