Donations to the Chattanooga Times Free Press Neediest Cases fund:
* Doesn't count an anonymous matching donation
For 10 years, the faces of the people who received help from the Chattanooga Times Free Press Neediest Cases fund have led Deborah Arfken to donate.
"Anytime that someone knows about the individual, and can put a face with a need, it inspires you to give," said Arfken, a professor of political science and director of university planning at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Donations to the Neediest Cases fund rose about 5 percent from last year, thanks to more than 450 generous donors. The campaign raised about $57,000 during the holiday season.
"Given the fiscal cliff, environment and just the challenging economic times, just to see an increase in this fund is a testimony to the giving spirit here," said Sandra Hollett, chief executive officer at the Partnership for Families, Children and Adults.
The campaign, which begins on Thanksgiving Day and runs through the end of the year, was started nearly 100 years ago by former New York Times and Chattanooga Times Publisher Adolph Ochs to help the 100 neediest people in the city. It helped about 346 people through November, but Hollett said the total for the year likely will be higher because the holiday season also is often the busiest.
The Neediest Cases fund can be used for any need. This year, it was used to help provide something as small as a bus ticket and as large as a new refrigerator.
"Most of the people are unbelievably grateful, especially because of the unusual ways we are able to help them," said Karen Murphy, volunteer coordinator at the Partnership.
It's this flexibility and attention to specific needs that make the fund so important to the Partnership. Hollett often says that the goal of the organization is to provide "a hand up, not a hand out."
"It's not perpetual help -- it's help so they can get independent," Murphy said. "It gives them dignity, too, that they can go on and be self-sufficient."
Like Arfken, Murphy also said being able to point to the stories printed in the Times Free Press and see where donations are going inspires more people to give.
"It's wonderful to be able to put a face with a need," she said.
"Let's remember, too, a lot of these people, we can't tell their stories," Hollett added. "There's a whole group of people that are kind of silent."
The people who donate will never know how much of a difference they are making in the lives of the thousands who have received Neediest Cases funding in the past 98 years, Hollett said.
For Arfken, the yearly donation reminds her of the importance a little bit can make. The money that many people spend on a dinner could help keep another family healthy or in their home.
"Some of the stories are absolutely heart-wrenching," Arfken said. "Something some of us think of as something small means the world to somebody else. How could we not give?"