This Christmas, Althea Banks and her family are grateful to be celebrating the holiday in a new apartment with presents under their tree instead of bouncing from one shelter to the next.
The 35-year-old mother of five said the family experienced several setbacks when they moved to Chattanooga from Atlanta in July. After leaving one shelter and standing next to the family's broken-down SUV, Banks said she received a call from a caseworker at Family Promise of Greater Chattanooga who gave the family their first break.
"I was about ready to give up and call home," said Banks, sitting on the couch of the family's new apartment in East Chattanooga. "We just needed a leg up."
With help from Family Promise and the Times Free Press Neediest Cases Fund, the family was able to repair their car so Banks' husband, Taurry, could get to and from work at the local Amazon fulfillment center. Banks said she now stays home during the day with her youngest daughter, Monica, while her husband is working 60 hours a week over the holiday season and their other children — Alana, 12; Tori, 10; Amauri, 9; and Tyrique, 6 — are in school.
After dropping them off at school Monday morning, Banks tidied up the family's apartment while Monica inspected the wrapped gifts already under the tree. The young girl turns 5 on Christmas Day and Banks said they already picked out her gifts – a baby doll and crib, a dollhouse, kitchen set and a few other things.
"We make sure we get what we can," she said.
In 1914, the Neediest Cases Fund was started by Chattanooga Times Publisher Adolph Ochs as a way for community members to help their neighbors with a one-time financial donation. The fund, which is managed by the United Way of Greater Chattanooga, helps locals with a variety of needs, including utility bills, rent, car repairs and more.
Regina Johnson McDevitt, chief operating officer for the Partnership for Families, Children and Adults, said at one time the fund even helped a teenager purchase new basketball shoes. The nonprofit organization is one agency in town that has a long history of using the fund to help clients.
"It helps with personal things that make an individual's quality of life better," she said.
Banks received $442 from the fund, which partially covered the cost of their car's repairs.
"That was a big help," she said. "I only had to pay some out of my pocket then."
The young mother said the car was the family's biggest obstacle to becoming financially independent.
"Once it got fixed, everything was OK," Banks said. "Now, it's really working out."
Contact Allison Shirk at email@example.com.