More than 400 generous donors raised nearly $54,000 for the Chattanooga Times Free Press Neediest Cases Fund, making 2011 one of the best years for giving in the past decade.
The fund, administered by the Partnership for Families, Children and Adults, gives small amounts of financial assistance to local residents in need. The Times Free Press asks readers to donate to the fund every year from Thanksgiving through New Year's as part of a tradition started in 1914.
Sandra Hollett, the Partnership's chief executive officer, was happy with the amount of money donated.
"Their donation is a true investment in the community," she said of the Neediest Cases fundraising. The Partnership has no national affiliation, so all donor contributions are used in the Chattanooga area.
Jason Taylor, president of the Times Free Press, credited the generosity of area residents.
"It is encouraging to see that even in these difficult times, our community continues to give," he said. "The community has been blessed through the Neediest Cases Fund for so many years. We look forward to seeing all the good that can come from these gifts throughout 2012."
It doesn't matter whether a donation is large or small, Hollett said, because "a small gift can make a big difference." The partnership tries to limit per-client spending from the fund to $250, she added.
Hollett said she likes to see who is giving and why they are giving. Many people make donations in honor of someone else, a nice gift during the holiday season.
"It's really just a wonderful way to remember people," she said.
In 2009 and 2010, anonymous donors matched what Times Free Press readers contributed to the Neediest Cases fund, which pushed the amounts collected to the highest ever.
Because of the matching donation in 2010, Hollett estimated that the Partnership was able to help about 700 families in 2011 with money from Neediest Cases.
How the fund has helped
Cassie Womack, development manager for the Partnership, said there was a greater need for assistance from the Neediest Cases Fund in 2011 because of the April tornadoes and the general state of the economy.
The Partnership collaborates with the Hamilton County Long Term Recovery Committee, and sometimes the Neediest Cases fund helps nontornado-related needs for these clients, Hollett said.
A growing trend in 2011 was using Neediest Cases money to help clients have their utilities restored.
"We definitely saw people in more desperate situations," Hollett said.
The Partnership also is seeing a lot of people who have fallen behind on their finances because of large medical bills, Hollett said.
The Partnership helps about 50,000 people a year, serving the needs of people from "womb to tomb" in 11 Tennessee counties, five Georgia counties and three Alabama counties, Hollett said. But not everyone who receives Neediest Cases money is a regular client of the Partnership - some are referred to the fund through United Way's 211 program.
"We get to see [the difference the fund makes] each and every day," Hollett said.