The Dalton Organization of Churches United for People (DOC-UP) provides assistance to Whitfield County residents who need temporary help paying for rent, utilities or prescription drugs.

On a typical day, it gets about 20 to 25 calls. But staff members said the past three weeks have been anything but typical, with the calls soaring to up to 80 a day.

And DOC-UP Executive Director Heather Donahue said the majority of the calls are for help with electric bills that have skyrocketed due to the cold weather.

"Some of our clients have seen their bills triple or even double," she said. "And the dollar amounts can be $300, $500, even $800. That last one was someone who wasn't able to pay their large bill from the previous month and then another large bill came behind it."

Most of those people are bringing in bills for December, which means they haven't received the bills for the brutally cold January.

"We haven't seen all of it," Donahue said.

While not a DOC-UP client, Rocky Face resident Mike Anderson said he, too, saw his power bill go up.

"Mine wasn't as bad as some people," he said. "Just $250, but that was almost double the month before."

Dawnville resident Ed Stowe, also not a DOC-UP client, said his electric bill increased.

"I just can't figure it out," he said. "I heat my home with natural gas."

DOC-UP doesn't just help people pay their utility bills. It has begun trying to help people reduce those bills.

"Last fall, we teamed up with Habitat for Humanity to teach some classes on how people can make their homes more heat efficient and to reduce their electricity use," Donahue said.

Some of the advice offered in the classes costs people little or nothing, such as bundling up and keeping the thermostat lower; blocking drafts under doors and windows with towels; opening blinds and curtains when it is sunny; and throwing an extra blanket on the bed and turning the thermostat down even lower when you sleep.

Donahue said one of the most important things people can do is avoid space heaters, which really drive up electricity costs.

"But some of the suggestions do require some planning and have some costs," Donahue said.

Those suggestions include covering windows with plastic, caulking windows, filling cracks around outside faucets and applying weatherstripping to doors and windows.

DOC-UP and Habitat provided materials, such as caulk and weatherstripping tape, to homeowners. If the homeowners are unable to do the work, DOC-UP will connect them with church groups that do home repairs.

DOC-UP still has some of those materials to provide to clients.

Donna Lusk, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Dalton-Whitfield and Murray, said that while the group is known for building houses, last year it began in partnership with the United Way of Northwest Georgia the Habitat Hand-up Repair Program that helps low-income homeowners with some repairs to their homes.

"We do the exterior part of the homes," she said. "That could be replacing windows or doors. We help with handicapped accessibility, such as railings or steps. We help with some siding issues."

Lusk said that work includes some weatherization.

"Heather knew that and invited us to work with them," she said. "It was exciting to be able to partner with another agency."

Lusk and Donahue said they plan to offer more weatherization classes later this year.

DOC-UP can be reached at (706) 529-9000. They answer calls Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Donations can be made to DOC-UP through www.paypal.me/DOCUPDALTON or by mailing the organization at P.O. Box 904, Dalton, GA 30722.

Habitat for Humanity of Dalton-Whitfield and Murray can be reached at (706) 272-3336. Press 4 to ask about the Habitat Hand-up Repair Program, and press 7 to volunteer.

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