Hundreds of people weathered the cold, rain and wind Tuesday night and Wednesday morning outside St. Paul AME Church on Shurling Drive in hopes of getting help paying their winter heating bills.
Many people were turned away who arrived after the 7 a.m. scheduled start for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
Kathy Haines, of Napier Avenue, said she lost her job at a JC Penney Co. store in October.
When she arrived at the church Wednesday morning, she found that all the numbered slips of paper used to keep people’s spots in line had been handed out hours earlier.
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Haines said it’s unfair that no one stopped people from camping out Tuesday night.
“I’m just discouraged,” she said.
Lonnie Miley, president of the board of directors for the Macon-Bibb County Economic Opportunity Council, said the group had asked that people not camp out overnight to save a place in line, but it would have caused more confusion to force them to leave.
“We know these are hard times and people want to be first in line,” he said. “We can’t stop people. We’ll have even greater chaos trying to run people off.”
Miley said numbers were passed out just before 7 a.m. and 350 people were served Wednesday.
Wanda Jones, who lives near Pio Nono Avenue, said she got in line about 6:30 p.m. Tuesday and spent the night in line.
With power bills ranging from $700 to $800, Jones said she needs help paying to keep her four children warm.
She estimated between 400 and 500 people were in line during the night.
At some point there was a stampede that knocked over elderly people who’d been waiting for hours further back in line, she said.
Gwendolyn Adderly, of Dublin Avenue, said she first got in line at 8 p.m. Tuesday.
Disabled from being shot in the leg with a shotgun, Adderly said she needs the money. “If I didn’t need it, I wouldn’t be here,” she said.
Because of the weather, she left and returned several times during the night. Once, she said she left to change clothes after her clothing and comforter became soaked with rain water.
No bathrooms were available at the church during the night. The doors were locked, she said.
After returning to the church at 6 a.m., Adderly was number 129 in line.
“It’s just disorganized,” she said.
The Economic Opportunity Council will be taking applications for heating assistance four more days before the end of the year and more days will be scheduled in January, Miley said. “We’ll save everybody until all the money is gone,” he said.
The Council has $1.8 million in federal funds to distribute to low-income Bibb County residents, Miley said.
To qualify for assistance under the energy assistance program, applicants must bring their most recent fuel bill, proof of income for all household members for the past 30 days and social security numbers for everyone living in their households.
Households must meet a yearly income equal to or less than 187 percent of the federal poverty guideline. To qualify for a $350 payment, a family of four must make $25,750 a year or less. For a $310 benefit, a family of four must make $41,266 or less, according to the council.
To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.