Every year during the holiday season, the Chattanooga Times Free Press asks readers to donate to the Neediest Cases fund, which is used by the Partnership for Families, Adults and Children year-round to help local residents whose needs cannot be met through traditional sources. All contributions are acknowledged in the newspaper. This year's fundraising effort will continue through Dec. 31.
Uiolina Hill lived in pain for years.
In 2006 she was diagnosed with pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas that sometimes requires hospitalization during an attack. She did not have a doctor to help her manage the illness.
When the pain was too intense, Hill, 53, would go to the emergency rooms in Chattanooga and Nashville until 18 months ago.
But after moving back to her hometown of Chattanooga, she started meeting with Kendra Brabham, a case manager at Partnership for Families, Children and Adults. She began taking medication and found a clinic, Volunteers in Medicine, to help her manage the pancreatitis, but she was unable to meet with her doctors because she had no transportation.
"Transportation is so difficult now," Hill said. "You've got to have the funds to pay someone to take you somewhere."
In March, Brabham used $62 from the Times Free Press Neediest Cases fund to purchase CARTA bus cards that Hill uses to get to doctor's appointments throughout the year.
"A lot of people, because they can't afford the $4 for the bus, don't get help," she said. "Four dollars is a lot of money if you don't have it."
For clients such as Hill, the Neediest Cases is a last resort fund -- a fund that is used when all other resources have been exhausted.
Now in its 98th year, the Chattanooga Times Free Press Neediest Cases fund serves anyone in need in the Chattanooga area through the Partnership for Families, Children and Adults.
Jason Taylor, Times Free Press president, said the newspaper is proud to continue its long-standing tradition.
"The needs in our community remain great, and this is an opportunity to touch our community in many different ways," he said.
Every dollar given to the Neediest Cases fund goes back into the community, said Sandra Hollett, chief executive officer of the Partnership. The nonprofit agency, and its predecessor organizations, have been involved with the Neediest Cases fund throughout the fund's history in Chattanooga.
"Our roots are deep here in Chattanooga, and our roots with the Neediest Cases also run deep," Hollett said. "This money has always been given out through Partnership, providing not only the funds, but additional services needed, so that it's not just a handout, but a hand up."
Unlike some money given to nonprofit organizations, money raised by the Times Free Press Neediest Cases fund is not earmarked for a specific purpose. The money can be used for anything from bus cards to medication to rent.
Case managers can ask for, and usually receive, money for what their clients need most, whether it is a night's stay in a hotel room, a utility bill paid or a bus ticket.
"In many cases, the Partnership is the support system for those who are alone or who have been marginalized, and literally don't know where to go for help," Hollett said.
Applications for money from the fund have risen over the past year, and Hollett said the fund is on pace to serve more than 500 clients this year.
For Brabham, Neediest Cases is often the only option for her clients when they are sick, because they either have such small incomes or no income at all.
Many of her clients are elderly or have been forced to quit working because they become ill.
"It helps a lot of people who have always helped themselves," Brabham said. "It's going to some very deserving people."
People requesting help from the Neediest Cases fund often need as little as $15, or as much as several hundred dollars. Likewise, the size of donations ranges from a few dollars to several thousand.
"Every dollar matters to the fund and to the work that we can do with it," Hollett said.
In 2011, the community donated $53,873 to the Neediest Cases fund.
"Even over the past few years with the struggling economy, our readers have risen to the occasion in giving to the community," Taylor said.
But needs in the community are outstripping the fund. So far, the Partnership has spent $67,754 on Neediest Cases clients.
A chance encounter with a shabbily dressed man on a New York City street motivated Adolph S. Ochs, publisher of The Chattanooga Times and The New York Times, to start a charitable holiday tradition. On Christmas Day 1911, Ochs went out for a walk after a big turkey dinner and met a man in need of help, according to The New York Times.
The man said he had just been given Christmas dinner at a YMCA but he had nowhere to sleep. Ochs looked him over, decided he looked respectable and gave him a few dollars and his card.
"If you're looking for a job," he said, "come see me tomorrow."
The encounter left the publisher thinking about charity and human need. The next year, he sent a reporter to several of the city's private welfare agencies to collect stories about the poor. His plan was to publish stories about the Hundred Neediest Cases in New York. These small chronicles, it turned out, sounded a powerful call. The Neediest Cases campaign began Dec. 15, 1912.
In Chattanooga, Ochs started the tradition in 1914, which has continued since the merger of The Chattanooga Times and the Chattanooga Free Press in 1999.
Source: The New York Times and the Chattanooga Times Free Press
Partnership administrators were able to create a small reserve fund with an anonymous donation in 2010 that matched the total raised that year. The reserve allowed the Partnership to serve more needs in the community this year, but those funds won't always be available.
For Ann and Bill Aiken, giving to the Neediest Cases fund will be a priority as long as they are able to give. Since 1976, the couple has given to the campaign, but individually, both Ann and Bill Aiken have a long connection to the fund.
Bill Aiken said he remembers his parents giving to the fund when he was young. Ann Aiken worked in the offices of The Chattanooga Times, and would open and sort all of the Neediest Cases donations.
"There's no real solicitation. You don't feel like you have to make a contribution," she said. "Nothing compels you to give; it's just something that feels right."
One of the great aspects of the holiday campaign is the diversity of those who contribute, Bill Aiken said.
"It's just one of those community things that people from all areas respond to," he said.
Hill also received money last year from Neediest Cases for medication for her pancreatitis.
Though she still suffers from the disease, she is getting healthier. But she doesn't know where she would be without Brabham and the Neediest Cases.
"Kendra's been sort of like a big sister to me," Hill said. "She will go out of her way to get you something, and if she can't get it for you, she'll go out of her way to get you half, so at least you have that."
The best thing Brabham does is point her clients in the right direction, and then make them go out and get their own help, Hill said.
For the people who are suffering in the community, Hill has a suggestion.
"Try to do the best you can, and if you can, get yourself a case worker," she said. "I've got all the help I need."