As many as 3,000 people attended information sessions in Macon throughout the day Thursday about applying for federal stimulus money.
People began arriving as early as 9 a.m., said Robert Welsh, director of stimulus and accountability for the Georgia Department of Human Services. Officials started information sessions an hour earlier than planned as a way to better deal with the crowds.
“We were scheduled to start at 12, but we started a little early,” Welsh said. “We had about 520 people, so we put them in groups of 260 and started the sessions.”
A similar workshop at the Department of Family and Children Services office in Macon last month was so packed with people eager to apply for the federal money that some of the 2,000 people were turned away. This time, officials were better prepared for the crowds by holding multiple sessions throughout the day rather than a single session at one location.
The Department of Human Services offered four sessions Thursday — at noon, 2 p.m., 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.
Even with four sessions, attendance surpassed the predicted numbers. Welsh said the event had drawn more than 2,500 people by 5 p.m., and he expected to reach 3,000 by the final session.
“It’s been crazy today,” Welsh said. “Luckily, we’ve had enough space to accommodate everyone, so we haven’t had any problems.”
Information sessions were offered for three different programs, officials said. Programs were only available to parents with children 18 years old or younger.
Fresh Start, a program that aids in paying rent, utility and mortgage bills, was the subject of one of the sessions.
Another, titled Jobs for Georgians, offers subsidized employment opportunities.
The third program offers job training program for noncustodial parents to help with paying child support.
Shanisha Thompson, who attended the Job for Georgians session, said she thought Thursday’s sessions were organized and helpful.
“I like the way they have it set up,” Thompson said. “It’s still cool, it’s indoors and it’s not crowded.”
Many attendees said they were surprised to not be confronted with large crowds or long lines. Andrea Ross, who attended the Fresh Start session, said she had expected an even larger crowd.
“I got here about 10:45 a.m., and they seated us within 20 minutes,” Ross said. “I was surprised by how quickly they got us in.”
Many participants said they attended the sessions in hopes of making themselves more attractive to employers. Theresa Fleckenstein, from Forsyth, said she showed up because she thought an information session was being offered on returning to school, but she stayed for the Jobs for Georgians session.
“I’m just looking for any type of job, clerical, receptionist, anything at all,” she said.
Welsh said Thursday he was pleased with crowd management at the event.
“We’re handling it well,” he said. “People are happy, and they have AC, and we’re looking to offer people some service.”
To contact writer Tiffany Stevens, call 744-4213.