ALBANY -- Hundreds flocked to the Dougherty County Neighborhood Service Center Tuesday in hopes of participating in the Southwest Georgia Community Action Council's Heating Assistance Program.
Cars and people lined the streets and sidewalks of the center's North Jackson Street location as individuals waited, some for hours, to get their names on a list for an appointment time for an application for assistance to be completed.
Ben Jackson, manager for the Dougherty County Neighborhood Service Center, said that heating assistance program has been offered for more than 10 years, but Tuesday's crowd was one of the largest he remembers.
"We have more people coming for assistance for lack of work and the economy," he said. "People's hours are also being cut, so there is more need."
The heating assistance program offers Albany and Dougherty residents financial assistance on their heating bills, Jackson said.
To be eligible for the help, a household must have an income equal to or below federal poverty guidelines.
"Clients who qualify for assistance can receive from $310-$350 in assistance on their heating bills," said Jackson. "It depends on the household size and income on how much they will receive."
Center officials said the program operates on a first-come-first-served basis and will continue until the funds are depleted.
"We have enough funding to assist perhaps 1,800 people or a little more," Jackson said. "We will continue until we run out of money."
He said the heating assistance program began in November, but then was only open to the elderly and individuals with life-threatening medical conditions who were in danger of imminent cut off of power.
"Today, it (the program) opens for the general public who fall under the income criteria," he said Tuesday afternoon. "We are working on setting up appointments."
Victoria Cannon, 39, said Tuesday afternoon that she had been waiting in line since 7:45 a.m. to submit her information.
"With the economy not doing well and not being able to find a job, we really needed some assistance," the mother of four said.
Cannon said she has been offered a job at a local church, but she cannot start work until construction has been completed on the building.
"I'll be working again next year," she said. "We have just got to get through it."
Cannon said that her family is grateful for any type of assistance.
"It was worth it," she said of her time waiting in line to be processed. "Every little bit helps."
Jackson said Albany residents seeking assistance under the program should call the Dougherty County Neighborhood Service Center at (229) 883-1365 to place their names on the list.
When an appointment time is set, applicants should arrive with proof of income for all household members for the last 30 days. This may be a paycheck stub, or a letter granting public assistance, Social Security or unemployment benefits. Applicants must also have the Social Security cards of all household members and their most recent utility or fuel bill.