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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Randall Ramsey poses behind the Taco Bell on Rossville Boulevard on Friday, Nov. 1, 2019 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Randell Ramsey, a Chattanooga veteran, has been out of the military since 1982, but he still feels like a Marine through and through. Wearing a U.S. Marines baseball cap, he said he does his best to follow the Marines' rules and live his life with order and organization.

But sometimes life doesn't stay organized, and one must ask for help.

Ramsey lost his job and was unemployed for a few months. His girlfriend of four years, Angela, had a job but could not afford all of the bills on her own. They fell behind on paying their rent.

Ramsey originally reached out to Volunteers of America and they put him in contact with Family Promise of Greater Chattanooga, a local agency that helps identify people who could benefit from the Neediest Cases Fund.

The Neediest Cases Fund helped the pair pay rent with a payment of $500, and other local agencies like the Chattanooga Regional Homeless Coalition chipped in to catch them up on payments.

"We try to maximize who can help them. We try to ask other agencies to see if they can help," said Carmen Hutson, director of stability and community programming at the United Way of Greater Chattanooga.

The Neediest Cases Fund was started in 1914 by Adolph Ochs, publisher of the New York Times and the Chattanooga Times. The fund is meant to help local citizens with one-time donations to get them back on their feet. The United Way of Greater Chattanooga manages it.

"This is for individuals to maintain stability. They have already have been stable but lost that due to some unforeseen incident," Hutson said.

Hutson noted that if an emergency happens for the local ALICE — asset-limited, income constrained and employed — population, it could cause them to spiral out of control and be unable to get back out.

"Those in the ALICE population are the ones that you can assist and you know that they are going to be able to maintain and keep on going," Hutson said.

Hutson noted that it's important to find the people who will be able to move forward, and not have the donation just be "like putting a Band-Aid on."

The Neediest Cases Fund helps out with various needs, most housing related. The one-time payments can help cover things such as utility bills, rent and car repairs. Nonprofit organizations and churches help identify and screen people who could possibility benefit from the fund. The average Neediest Cases Fund donation is about $600.

"They were all really nice and helped keep a roof over our heads," Ramsey said. "I highly recommend anyone who needs any help to go see these people."

Ramsey now has a new job with the Hamilton County highway department.

His girlfriend is doing well, too, Ramsey added. "She just got a job at CHI Memorial hospital, where she sterilizes all of the equipment that is used in operations."

Ramsey said being in this situation has made him realize some new things.

"It made me realize that there are people out there who care. I had almost given up hope on people caring," he said. "Don't be afraid to ask for help. It's not a shame. What they gave me was not a handout. It got me back up on my feet where I could start to make it on my own again."

Donations last year to the Neediest Cases Fund totaled $41,963. Donations are being accepted through December for the fund and can be made online at timesfreepress.com/neediestcases.

Contact Rebecca Hazen at news@timesfreepress.com.

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