A little after sun up, the fleet of electrical linemen were on the roads of Dougherty County in southwest Georgia, but at the health department April Smith was on a different mission. She had a tree on the roof, no power and a hungry baby.
“Please, dear Lord I can't take any more,” she said to herself as she walked to the door of the health department. “She's got one can of formula. One can of formula. And I don't have food stamps to go buy it.”
The health department where she was hoping to find the formula was supposed to be open at 7 a.m. At 8:30 it still looked like a ghost town. So, no food for the baby. Smith wasn’t sure what her next move was.
“I have no food stamps and I have one can of formula. What do I do?” she asked.
Back in her car, she settled her kids down, and started dialing every number she could think of for help.
It’s been a week since Hurricane Michael barreled through South Georgia after wreaking destruction in the Florida Gulf Coast. In southwest Georgia there are still many thousands without power.
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Still more pressing is the need for food; a need made worse by the lack of power but also because of the disruptions the storm made in the rhythm of supply and demand for food the poor live with every day.
Jenna Chang is the head of emergency management for Dougherty County and she’s been keeping an eye on this.
“We estimate that it could be as high as 30,000 people throughout the community which may include some of those very small outlying areas that are technically in another county but get their services in this community,” Chang said.
That mosaic of food insecurity made worse by the storm includes kids who only get fed at school, the elderly in nursing homes and families on SNAP benefits. Chang said it will take all hands on deck to address it all. She said churches, private businesses and others are picking up where government is leaving off.
Early Monday, there was a long line outside the local Division of Family and Children’s Services office in town. It’s made up of people like Johnny Gordon who were trying to get emergency SNAP benefits. Gordon said he has no power and there’s no more canned food to be found for him, his wife and their two kids. So he’s got to cook, which is tricky with no power.
“You got to buy something to put on the grill,” he said. Which means meat, which is expensive and spends down food stamps very quickly.
Timpest Hamilton was in line at DFCS, too. He said food stamps allow you only just so much meat and so much fresh food every month. The trick even in good times is making it stretch.
“Now you have to eat it before it goes spoiled because you have nowhere to store it,” he said.
There are places scattered around the area where people with access to a car can line up and get food. With the help of police officers and firefighters, National Guard members handed out ice, water, ready-to-eat meals and tarps in the parking lot of an out of business grocery store.They handed out about 2,000 meals on Sunday.
Tosha Wilson was in her car with her kids waiting to get into the parking lot. She was feeling desperate.
“I have been without power for six days. I have a child without diabetes, medical problems,” she said.” It’s just a disaster.”
She’s been without food that long, too.
“Basically it’s been hard. We never expect things to come through our city like this,” she said. Albany was hit by two tornadoes about a month apart in 2017.
City officials said it could be another five days before the power is back on and people in Albany can begin to restock their refrigerators. That’s if they are able to afford the food.