Huffpost Impact
Laura Bassett Headshot

Electric Company Works With Salvation Army To Pay Unemployed Woman's Bill (VIDEO)

Posted: Updated:

Imani Harris, 30, says that when she walked into her apartment in Savannah, Georgia on October 4 to find her electricity turned off -- a mere three days after her unemployment benefits expired -- she spent the next four weeks looking for help.

"I went through the yellow pages and just started calling different organizations for help," said Harris, who was laid off from her job as a certified medical assistant at an orthopedic center in May 2009. "Not having electricity takes a lot out of what you're able to do. You can't cook food, you can't wash because you can't see inside your bathroom, you can't charge your phone or check corporate websites for job ads, you can't check your professional e-mail to see if that employer responded to your application. It's been pretty stressful."

Harris says none of the charity organizations or churches she called were able to help her because of the red tape involved with getting her electricity turned back on, including the reconnect fees and $210 deposit on top of the $105.87 balance on her bill. Increasingly frustrated with her situation, she said she finally called the local TV station, which then contacted the Georgia Power corporate office on her behalf.

Georgia Power was able to make a deal with the Salvation Army to pay Harris' debt, and her electricity was reconnected this morning.

"They said they were willing to allow me to pay the deposit in installments as long as the Salvation Army was able to pay the balance on the old bill," Harris said.

Through Project SHARE, a partnership between Georgia Power and the Salvation Army, customers can donate an extra few dollars on their electricity bills to help families in need, and Georgia Power will match every dollar. Since the program's inception in 1985, it has helped over 50,000 Georgians keep up with their utility bills in times of need.

Linda James, a spokesperson for the Salvation Army in Savannah, said she has seen a sharp increase in demand for assistance since the recession.

"There's been a tremendous uptick in requests this year," she told HuffPost.  "I know we have at least a week's waiting list of individuals calling for assistance that we cannot give appointments to right now. The amount of people we can help is dependent upon on the funding we have each month."

While Harris was one of the lucky ones to receive assistance, she may be on her own to pay her bill next month, even though she still has zero income.

"It's supposed to be a one-time service within a 12-month period," James said. "If there are extenuating circumstances, we try to provide as much to as many as we can, but it's really only designed to relieve the immediate crisis."

Harris said she has a meeting at the Salvation Army on Thursday to discuss possible help for next month, and she continues to meet with temp agencies every week to seek jobs and update her availability, but her main focus right now is just trying to keep her head above water.

"I see a lot of people getting really frustrated and losing stamina in my situation," she said. "Sometimes I have to make do without food, because it's the last thing on my mind when I'm trying to keep a roof over my head. But I just keep telling myself that if I give up on one day, that might be the day I get my job offer."


As part of our Impact 2.0 project, HuffPost is rounding up stories of former middle class Americans who have been struggling to stay afloat in the recession. If you have a story to tell, e-mail