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Community Works Together to “Turn on the Heat”

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Floyd County, Ga., residents are turning on the heat for their less fortunate neighbors.

As part of a joint effort between area churches, the Salvation Army, Good Neighbor Ministries and the Floyd County Baptist Association, many people who would otherwise be without heat this winter are now warm and safe.

Good Neighbor Ministries is a nonprofit organization that helps low-income families pay their rent, utilities and medical bills. But, Good Neighbor Ministries was unable to help families if their heat had already been turned off.

That’s when the rest of the community came to the rescue.

Steve Edwards, a member of First Baptist Church in Rome, Ga. said he had read about an elderly woman in the newspaper who had her heat turned off because she could not pay the bills.

“When I saw that there were people in our county that didn’t even have heat, I felt like it was wrong,” Edwards said. “As prosperous as our nation is, this problem should not exist.”

Edwards decided to call the Rome Housing Authority to see if he could obtain some of the cases he had read about. The Housing Authority gave him five cases, and Edwards and his wife decided they would pay off the bills of one of those in need.

But Edwards didn’t stop there. He took the four remaining cases to his Sunday School class and challenged its members to take care of the remaining bills. By Monday, all five of the outstanding bills had been paid.

The result: the One Family Project.

The One Family Project is based on the idea that one family will assist another family in getting their heat bill paid off and getting the heat turned back on.

Good Neighbor Ministries did the leg work when it came to setting up the accounts necessary to receive funds.

“The whole idea was that, literally, one family would help one family,” said Susan Seagraves, a Good Neighbor Ministries board member and volunteer. “We took on the correspondence between the gas company.”

Seagraves said the biggest challenge is matching a family with funding because some bills are so exorbitant. If one family cannot take on another family’s heating bills entirely, then the amount is divided between several families.

As of last week, Seagraves said the project has helped over 177 families in Floyd County, bringing in more than $115,000.

“It has been rewarding to build a coalition of agencies, churches, businesses and government,” said Joel Snider, pastor at First Baptist Church in Rome, Ga.

Snider said they made three commitments from the beginning.

First, the project would be a spiritual effort.

“We asked that people who are helped be told that their bills were being paid as an act of Christian commitment,” Snider said.

Second, the process would be personalized. Those involved wanted to be able to pick a case that held particular meaning for them—a senior adult living alone, a single parent with three young children, etc. The average bill is around $600-800.

Third, there would be no villains. Snider said it was crucial to refrain from pointing fingers at the utility companies who had turned off the gas. The focus was on helping remedy the problem, not placing blame.
Sometimes you have to focus on the physical problem before jumping into the spiritual issues.

“People on the bottom aren’t really interested in what I think about the Bible,” Edwards said. The hope is that once the physical needs are met, people will be more open to their deeper needs, he said.

Edwards said he was pleased to see such a diverse group working together on the same project.

“We had Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians, college students and even a beauty shop that got involved,” he said. “If you can get all of them together on a common project there’s no telling what will happen.”

The project will continue through the winter.

Jodi Mathews is BCE’s communications director.