Gerber: Newspaper's role is to shine a light

TO HELPHere's how to donate to the Neediest Cases:• Online at• Call 423- 757-6208.• Clip the coupon in today's B section and mail it in with your check.

It's a newspaper's role to give a voice to the voiceless, to bring into public consciousness what might easily be overlooked.

And every day we make this our mission.

Whether it's telling the story of a victim of childhood sexual abuse or investigating the impact of a government policy or highlighting the deep needs of the poor in our community, we are responsible for seeking the truth, beyond what is issued in news releases.

And the truth is, there are many in our region in dire need, some of whom you will see highlighted in the Times Free Press' annual Neediest Cases campaign to raise money for our neighbors struggling to overcome poverty.

Adolph Ochs, the late publisher of The New York Times and The Chattanooga Times, began the fund in 1911 in New York and extended it here two years later. Since then, it's helped thousands of people.

Last year, readers of the Chattanooga Times Free Press and other supporters of the Neediest Cases Fund contributed more than $61,000, which the United Way of Greater Chattanooga distributed. This year, the fund kicked off on Thanksgiving Day and runs through the end of the year.

Often, the fund helps people for whom other sources of aid have been exhausted.

The fund paid for a shower chair that helped a chronically ill 91-year-old bathe with greater ease. "It was the smallest of luxuries, but still more than Grace Wilson could afford," Lisa Denton wrote in a 1995 story.

There was the time in 1997 when the fund paid to have phone service turned back on for a woman who'd been the victim of elder-abuse.

It helped a single dad keep the electricity on after the mom of there of his children died. That was in 2009.

Then in 2010, the fund paid for new basketball shoes for a teenager who once weighed 450 pounds but was losing weight through diet and exercise. As he exercised more, his old shoes fell apart.

And last year, it helped an 88-year-old woman -- who uses a wheelchair because of cerebral palsy -- through a service that transports people to day camps or doctor visits.

Please read these stories over the holiday and considering giving.

Another way the Times Free Press is bringing public awareness to an issue rarely discussed is with a story on today's front page.

Projects Editor Joan Garrett McClane tells the story of a lesbian couple in North Georgia who believe their efforts to adopt three children they'd fostered were thwarted because they are gay.

Whatever your opinion on gay marriage or gay couples adopting, this is an important story.

We are living at a time when more and more families are non-traditional, and gay adoption is an issue our society is grappling with. It's something we need to discuss as a community, not something that should be buried and whispered about.

It's also an issue with a tremendous amount of gray, one for which there are no clear policies yet, leaving crucial decisions about the lives of children to individual whims.

How these cases play out across the country will affect thousands of children in state custody. Without clear policies, we'll continue to see legal challenges. Foster children -- who've already been uprooted at least once -- will be caught in the middle.

Anybody dealing with the huge machine of a state bureaucracy knows what it's like to feel like they have no voice. That's how the women in the story, Candice Dean and Jamie Chambliss, feel.

The story gives them a voice. It also, hopefully, will encourages others to voice their opinion about this issue.

Alison Gerber is editor of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Contact her at