CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — At 7 in the morning, they are already lined up — poultry plant workers, housekeepers, discount store clerks — to ask for help paying their heating bills or feeding their families.
And once Metropolitan Ministries opens at 8 a.m., these workers fill the charity’s 40 chairs, with a bawling infant adding to the commotion. From pockets and handbags they pull out utility bills or rent statements and hand them over to caseworkers, who often write checks — $80, $110, $150 — to patch over gaps in meeting this month’s expenses or filling the gas tank to get to work.
Just off her 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift, Erika McCurdy needed help last month with her electricity and heating bill, which jumped to $280 in January from the usual $120 — a result of one of the coldest winters in memory. A nurse’s aide at an assisted living facility, Ms. McCurdy said there were many weeks when she couldn’t make ends meet raising her 19-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter.
“There’s just no way, making $9 an hour as a single parent with two children, that I can live without assistance,” said Ms. McCurdy, 40, a strong-voiced, solidly built Chattanooga native.