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Single parents, seniors, sick people and others struggling to bounce back from misfortune — these were some of the individuals helped by the Chattanooga Times Free Press Neediest Cases Fund throughout 2019.

Carmen Hutson, director of stability and community programming at the United Way, said the fund is so important because there's little assistance for people who are struggling and on the verge of homelessness.

"These are your hardworking people who aren't making headway to pay their bills, and any kind of emergency throws them back. That's where Neediest Cases is helpful in giving them that one-time assistance," Hutson said, adding that Neediest Cases isn't just about giving money to people in need, but addressing the root cause of their need.

Adolph Ochs, publisher of the New York Times and the Chattanooga Times, began the Neediest Cases Fund in 1914, and now it helps people with one-time donations to get them back on track. The United Way of Greater Chattanooga manages the fund.

The 2019 appeal officially ended Tuesday, but funds are dispersed throughout the year. Contributions may still be made through timesfreepress.com/neediest-cases/ or by using the form accompanying this story.

Examples of how the fund was used throughout 2019 include a breast cancer survivor working to start a new life after her husband walked out following more than 30 years of marriage. Another was a single mother who totaled her car in an accident and lost her job because she couldn't get to work. One man, Earl Miller, just needed a new pair of glasses.

"The pair he had was broken, and we could tell they would not stay on if he moved his head or looked down," wrote Christine Ralph, Miller's case manager with the United Way.

Being on a fixed income, Miller did not have the money to get his glasses replaced, the local Lions Club (which assists people through its Sight Services program) had a six-month waiting list and no free clinics were planned for the area any time soon. With $114.95 from Neediest Cases, Miller was able to get an eye exam and two new pairs of glasses. The United Way also was able to connect him to other services in town to improve his health.

"He asked for no more than help with the glasses, insisted he didn't need much to get by on and [said] how happy he would be if only he could see," Ralph wrote.

One case that stood out to Hutson was an elderly veteran whose water heater went out, which could've caused him significant health problems. While Neediest Cases provided funds and got the ball rolling, fixing the man's water heater became a community effort. The store that sold the water heater and the installation team both gave United Way a discount and replaced the old heater on Easter weekend to get the man hot water.

"When the community comes together to assist, that's where we need to be," Hutson said. "It's not just 'let's give someone help.' It's 'let's all work together,' because any of us could be in that same position one day."

Contact Elizabeth Fite at efite@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6673.

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