Last year, the State of Georgia deregulated its natural gas industry. Significant confusion resulted; many customers did not receive bills from the gas marketers for many months. When the poorer members of our community finally received their bills, they were devastated by what they found: the unit cost of gas had tripled, and delayed billing resulted in them owing significant amounts of money to the marketers. The state government attempted to work out a means for these people to pay their bills, but many were so far behind, there was no way to catch up. As fall approached this year, nearly 1,200 families in the county faced disconnection for failure to pay last year’s gas bills. Those who faced disconnection and who lived in public housing also faced eviction due to the policies of the Rome Housing Authority. The community of Rome, Georgia faced a potential catastrophe. Hundreds of children and older adults faced a winter without any heat, and many of them faced living on the streets.
Steve Edwards is the owner of a small, local insurance company. When he read of the plight of these 1,200 families in Floyd County, he determined that he would get the heat turned on for at least one family. He and his wife made a gift to the local Salvation Army for one family’s unpaid gas bill. Upon further reflection, Steve wondered if other local families might like to do the same. With no budget and no organization, Steve began to challenge families within his congregation to pay for one family’s gas bill. The response was powerful. Next, Steve called an impromptu meeting of various helping organizations within the community.
These entities met and quickly organized a process to share resources, information, and policies in an effort to coordinate a major relief effort. Representatives from two churches, the Salvation Army, Good Neighbor Ministries, Floyd County Baptist Association, Rome Housing Authority, Community Info line, and Atlanta Gas Light Company have begun regular meetings in an effort to solve this problem. “One Family Helping One Family” serves as the name for Edwards’ ongoing project.
While the project is far from finished, the results speak for themselves. Only five families were evicted from public housing; each of these families had working adults, no children, and made no effort to address their outstanding bill. Every other family has had their bill paid in full, and now has heat. Collectively, the three agencies that provide direct assistance to the poor have received over $120,000 for this cause. This amazing effort and outpouring of care was a result of Edward’s compassion for his fellow man.
The local Chamber of Commerce has designated February 2nd as “One Family Day.” Participating merchants will receive donations from customers on that day. Though it is organized, this is not an official organization and has no budget. Even so, they have a vision and energy of one man, a responsive community, and a name now recognized by hundreds of people in Floyd County, One Family Helping One Family.