Colder months don’t always mean relaxing evenings cozying up by the fire, moseying around ice skating rinks and sipping warm hot chocolate for people who can’t afford to keep their heaters on.
Cindy Williams, a senior citizen of Gainesville, knows this feeling all too well. This time of year usually means choosing which bills to pay.
“Sometimes I have to pick,” Williams said.
If she wants to stay warm, it might be the water or the light bill she doesn’t pay, even when her children are helping out with her bills.
“It takes a lot to pay in the winter, but I manage it,” she said.
However, she’s been staying warm with the lights on and her water running thanks to the Ninth District Opportunity organization.
The group serves both the city of Gainesville, where Williams lives, and Hall County.
The community action agency conducts an annual energy assistance program, which the elderly or homebound persons are eligible for.
“I appreciate them signing me up,” she said. “I think it’s a great thing.”
In order to be eligible, they must be 65 years of age or older or completely unable to leave their homes due to health reasons.
Every year the organization collects some information from the individuals, including their names, Social Security numbers, citizen certification or a photo ID, an age verification, income proof for the past 30 days and their most recent heating and electric bill, according to a flier given to the qualified.
Once all those criteria are met, a one-time payment will be put into the account of the energy supplier based on income. Payments usually range from $310 to $325, said Gloria Wilms, senior programs coordinator at the Senior Life Center in Gainesville.
Wilms appreciates what the program does for the people at the center.
“The program is really needed for some of them,” she said. “Even if it’s just to put more money in their pocket, just a little extra something.”
Cheryl Carter has been using her money wisely.
“It lasted me all year,” she said.
She lives in the Church Street Manor apartments in Gainesville and has been with the program for the past five years.
“I have other bills I have to pay, so it definitely helps,” Carter said. “I really appreciate it. It has really made a difference.”
The once-a-year check from Ninth District Opportunity helps the low-income woman get her bills paid on time. It also helps other women like Marcie Hubbard, who has been receiving checks for the past two years.
“It helps me real good,” Hubbard, friend and neighbor to Carter, said. “We are really blessed by it.”
Carter and Hubbard were two of around 20 to 25 people that day who were given the assistance with their heating bills, Wilms estimated.
In the summer, the center also coordinates a program called Beat the Heat. Fans are donated to the center and then given out to the seniors who need them.
“A fan can only do so much, but it’s better than nothing,” Wilms said.
For more information about the Ninth District Opportunity, visit www.ndo.org.