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The heating season has arrived, and so did hundreds of people who lined up Monday for the official start of the Home Energy Assistance Program.

HEAP is a federally funded program to assist Erie County residents with their heating bills.

Melissa Drechsel and Brenda Walker got in line at HEAP headquarters, 478 Main St., at about 11:15 a.m.

They said the line was moving pretty well but that the whole process should be modernized.

“We live in the age of the Internet. We could [enter] our account numbers, and they send us an email or call us, letting us know if we [qualify] or how much we can get,” said Drechsel, who recently moved back to Buffalo after living in North Carolina for four years to take care of her husband’s ailing father.

Monday was the first time she ever stood in the HEAP line, an inconvenience for families like hers, whose members must take time off from their jobs to stand in line.

The timing might have been an inconvenience, but it also was a cause for hope for Walker.

“It’s three days before Thanksgiving,” she said. “I have a big family to cook for, about 30 people, and the gas is off. I hope they will turn it on before Wednesday.”

Across the street, members of the National Fuel Accountability Coalition (NFAC) held a rally to bring attention to its weatherization campaign.

The coalition, which includes PUSH Buffalo, has been trying for five years to get National Fuel Gas to work with the community to invest more money into weatherization programs for homeowners and the working poor.

“We think it’s ridiculous that we all should go through this every year while people such as David Smith, the chief executive officer of National Fuel, sit back in their warm cubby holes of a life and watch us suffer to get what we rightfully deserve,” said Irene Hakesworth, a member of PUSH Buffalo.

For a second year in a row, coalition members set up a stage for local performing artists and various speakers to send the weatherization message to passers-by and people standing in the HEAP line.

Musicians and singers performed the group’s theme song, “No Heat,” produced by Lonnie Barlow, PUSH Buffalo’s communications assistant. The song echoes the frustrations of the working poor in dealing with utility shutoffs in the winter.

The singers invited the gathering crowd to join along in the chorus:

“I got no heat. They turned it off. How could they be so cold? I got no heat. They turned it off. This winter will be so cold.”

HEAP office hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information about the program, call 858-7644.

email: dswilliams@buffnews.com