Neediest Cases helps family restore running water to Spring City home

Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Marsha Hendricks, who received assistance from the Neediest Cases Fund to connect to city water service after her well pump gave out, poses for a photo at Senior Lighthouse Center in Spring City on Monday.
Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Marsha Hendricks, who received assistance from the Neediest Cases Fund to connect to city water service after her well pump gave out, poses for a photo at Senior Lighthouse Center in Spring City on Monday.


As a volunteer at the Senior Lighthouse Center in Spring City, Marsha Hendricks regularly encounters older adults in the community living on fixed incomes and feel they have nowhere to turn when unexpected expenses arise.

Hendricks, who is accustomed to providing assistance to others rather than being on the receiving end of others' generosity, was surprised to find herself in such a situation last December.

She rented out her home last year while living in Florida for several months, but had to come back to Tennessee unexpectedly when her sister suddenly became ill and passed away. Hendricks returned to Spring City to find her home a disaster.

"My tenants destroyed my home," said Hendricks, who collected only a month's rent before her tenants stopped paying and refused to leave her home.

When she returned from Florida, her well pump was burned out and her home had no running water, so she and her family had to haul in water for cooking and drinking and arranged to shower elsewhere, she said.

Tree limbs had fallen onto the roof, creating a hole that led to water damage and black mold inside the home, said Hendricks, who had to take the tenants to court in order to get them to leave her house.

"We came back to so much damage to our home that it literally exhausted all of my funds for us just to try and evict them and get moved back into the home," she said.

The tenants were ordered to pay back rent, but they were not required to pay for the damages to the property, said Hendricks, who along with the other members of her household lives on a fixed income of Social Security payments.

She found the $3,000 cost to fix the well pump was more expensive than the $2,000 cost of purchasing a water meter and connecting to city water service, so she went with the latter option but was only able to cover $1,250.

"I prayed and prayed and I was like, 'I don't know how in the world we're going to get the last bit of this money to get this done,'" Hendricks said in a phone interview.

 

Through the United Way of Rhea County, she applied for assistance from the Neediest Cases Fund to cover the remaining $750 needed to restore running water to her home.

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"I'm so thankful for the assistance that I received," Hendricks said. "Programs like this bring out the heart in people to give and to show what community really is. So I personally appreciate United Way and the contributors (to the Neediest Cases Fund) because that's what community is about. That's what helping one another is about."

Fueled by donations from Chattanooga Times Free Press readers, the Neediest Cases Fund provides one-time assistance to people faced with unforeseen circumstances that leave them unable to meet their basic needs. The annual fundraising campaign kicks off Thursday and runs through New Years Day.

The Neediest Cases campaign began in New York City on Dec. 15, 1912. Two years later, Adolph Ochs, the publisher of The New York Times brought the program to Chattanooga, where he owned the Chattanooga Times.

Funds raised are administered by the United Way of Greater Chattanooga through its partner agencies, and recipients' stories are told in the newspaper during the holiday season. Recipients must be working or on a fixed income and be able to demonstrate ongoing stability and self-sufficiency after receiving Neediest Cases funds.

In 2022, $57,470.62 was raised through the campaign. The United Way has distributed a total of $113,121.69 in grants ranging from $93 to $1,700 so far this year to 113 households, including 157 adults and 132 children, according to Terran Anderson, vice president of community and corporate engagement for United Way of Greater Chattanooga.

The most common request from Neediest Cases Fund recipients is for rent assistance, and requests have increased over the past few years — particularly from asset-limited, income-constrained families who are working consistently but are still a flat tire away from financial distress, she said in an email.

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Anderson believes the increase in requests for assistance is the result of a variety of factors, including the end of pandemic relief funding, inflation, the high cost of living and the continuous housing crisis in Chattanooga, she said.

"We thought after the pandemic that the need would go down, but it's not," Anderson said in a phone interview. "In fact, the need is actually continuing to rise in the community.

"Things like Neediest Cases, they help people put a put a Band-Aid in that particular moment on the situation so that we can also simultaneously try and affect some long term change for them as well."

Contact Emily Crisman at ecrisman@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6508.


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