Tallatoona assistance program draws crowd seeking help
by Matt Shinall
Dec 02, 2010 | 4395 views | 0 0 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jessica Mitcham, service coordinator for Tallatoona Community Action Partnership, right, gets information from J.E. Adair. The line for assistance stretched out the door to Douglas Street. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
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Nearly a thousand local residents braved a brisk wind and chilly temps Wednesday -- some even slept in their vehicles overnight -- waiting for the doors to open at Tallatoona Community Action Partnership where the registration process began for applicants to receive heating energy assistance.

Those in line Wednesday said some arrived as early as 8 p.m. the day before. Although the weather was unpleasant, gratitude was evident in those waiting in front of the Douglas Street office as cars filled the street and the line overflowed the parking lot onto the sidewalk. Cartersville resident Belinda Cooley arrived at 4 a.m. Wednesday for a place in line.

"This is truly a blessing," Cooley said. "When I found out about it, I got on the phone calling everyone I know.

"I thank God for Tallatoona and whoever supports it. It's truly a blessing that there's people trying to help the less fortunate."

The Below Income Heat Energy Assistance Program is sponsored by the federal government and overseen by the state. Georgia has sub-contracted with agencies like Tallatoona to disburse funds locally. More than 50 families were served Wednesday at the Tallatoona Cartersville office, while 800 appointments were scheduled to meet with families to discuss eligibility and assistance.

"We incorporated in 1967 and that was sort of the War on Poverty that was happening at that time with Lyndon B. Johnson. So we've been here, a permanent fixture, throughout our seven-county delivery area, which includes Bartow County, for more than 40 years," said Deborah Schmell, Tallatoona CAP executive director.

Applicants, if eligible, can receive up to $350 in a one-time annual payment sent directly to their energy provider. Means of assistance can be provided for any heat source, including the purchase of firewood.

Cartersville resident Amy Jordan has suffered from various medical conditions for about a year and began the long walk to Tallatoona early Wednesday morning in hopes of getting power reconnected to her home. She received help from Tallatoona last year just as her illness began but power was shut-off again during her last prolonged hospitalization.

"They helped us last year and that was a mercy. That's when I started getting sick," Jordan said. "It's a blessing from God. I hope I get my power on today, we need heat bad."

Wednesday's long lines were testament to the economic crisis affecting many locally and nationwide. Tallatoona saw the increase in need begin last year to which Congress responded by giving more aid. This year however, additional funds have not been awarded.

"We saw a tremendous up-tick really starting last year around this time, and last year Congress had appropriated additional funds because of the economy, in fact they gave us about twice what they normally do but that hasn't happened this year unfortunately. And last year they also raised the income level, which made more folks eligible, and this year they've actually reduced it some," Schmell said. "Unfortunately we have less money to help people with this year and the income guidelines have been reduced. So we won't be running our energy program for as long as we normally do unless Congress decides to allocate some additional funds in the next month or so."

Applicants facing disconnection from their power supplier and those who have already lost service, were prioritized for assistance while other eligible clients were scheduled to meet with Tallatoona representatives in the coming weeks. Appointments can also be scheduled over the phone, which Schmell said is recommended to keep applicants from waiting outdoors, but those in need of assistance should not wait to call.

"We actually encourage people to call. I realize it's difficult because the lines are very busy, but if they just put their phones on automatic re-dial and continue calling, they won't have to come stand outside in the cold. However, I don't expect the program to last as long as last year because of having less funds this year. Last year I believe the program ran until March or April, we will be done much sooner this year. So if people want service they do need to try to get an appointment as soon as possible," Schmell said.

For more information, call 770-382-4222 or visit www.tallatoonacap.org.