A whole month of work now is reduced to a cup full of ashes, and the computer Usbaldo Salas wanted for Christmas now is a dream.
On Dec. 11, the 10-year-old's East Lake rental home burned and with it Julio Cruz's pay, $1,500 that he had collected in cash a day before the accidental fire.
"I was in one of my sister's home when my other sister called to say the house was burning," said Mayvi Samayoa, Mr. Cruz's partner and Usbaldo's mother. "We lost a big television, but what hurts me the most is the money."
The Red Cross helped put the family in a hotel for three nights and got Ms. Samayoa in touch with United Way and the Salvation Army.
After a few e-mails and going back and forth, several local service organizations, including the Partnership for Families, Children and Adults, pledged $450 to help pay for the first month's rent and put the family back into a home before Christmas.
Through the Chattanooga Times Free Press Neediest Cases fund, the Partnership contributed $150.
"From what I understand, this was a lady who literally came in with a can of $100 charred bills," said Susan Geary, Neediest Cases caseworker. "At this point, she had absolutely nothing."
For Ms. Samayoa, the hardest part was not being able to buy her children what they wanted for Christmas, including Usbaldo's computer.
"I really don't like talking about (the fire) because it hurts me too much," said the Mexico native, fighting the tears. "We just lost too much."
She said she usually didn't keep the money at home, but this time Mr. Cruz had come to her with $1,500 she put away in a drawer in her bedroom, the only room in the house that burned.
Mr. Cruz works doing odd jobs, which is very unpredictable, she said. Ms. Samayoa has three children, age four to 10, and lives with a sister and her children.
Ms. Geary said working together with other agencies is imperative to the work they do.
"There's no way I could do what I do without this partnership," she said. "If we couldn't help with (that) $150, then they would have had to look somewhere else."