Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Ashley and Gary Grant stand for a photo with their children Bessie, 3, and Kyla Barnett, 7, and Kayden Barnett, 9, on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020 in Evensville, Tenn.

Life can change at the drop of a hat.

Gary and Ashley Grant of Evansville, Tennessee, learned that hard truth a few months ago and continue to work through the hardships that come after a family emergency.

In August, Gary had three blockages in his heart and had to have emergency triple bypass surgery. Because of COVID-19 restrictions at the hospital, his wife Ashley had to console and communicate with him only through FaceTime before he finally came home.

Gary, a mechanical operator at a business in Dayton, came home on Sept. 1 but is slowly working through his recovery.

A blue-collar worker who prides himself on providing for his family, he's had a tough few months both physically and emotionally, not able to be the father and husband he's used to being.

Ashley Grant works at the NHC nursing home in Athens but has had to take a leave of absence to take care of Gary. The facility recently had to take her off the payroll because it's been more than eight weeks. The nursing home has been hit hard with COVID-19 cases.

"We love the work," Ashley said. "I love the feeling of coming home after a day's work and feeling that security. We've both been out of work and without short-term disability we just didn't foresee this happening. It's been really tough. Probably the roughest year we've ever had."

With the stoppage in both of their work at the same time, and with three young kids at home, monthly bills have started to pile up. Rhea County United Way officials hope the organization and the community can help.

Started in 1914 by Chattanooga Times publisher Adolph Ochs, the annual Neediest Cases Fund provides help to people who need one-time assistance to become self-sufficient when unforeseen circumstances leave them unable to pay their bills.

Funded by donations from Times Free Press readers, the Neediest Cases Fund is managed by the United Way of Greater Chattanooga and distributed to people in need who are referred by partner agencies.

Last year hundreds of readers made donations to the fund ranging from $12-$5,000, raising a total of $46,569.86.

(Donate to the Neediest Cases Fund here) 

Other Ways to Donate

Note: Under the CARES Act, taxpayers who don't itemize deductions may take a deduction of up to $300 for cash contributions made in 2020 to charitable organizations.

Send the following information and a check to United Way of Greater Chattanooga. Please note that the donation is for Neediest Cases and mail to United Way, 630 Market St., Chattanooga, TN 37402.
Enclosed is a donation for $
Donor Acknowledgement options:
In honor of:
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All donations will be acknowledged by mail and in the newspaper. Please state if you do not want us to publish a name in the list of contributors. Donations will be accepted through Dec. 31.

This year's Neediest Cases campaign runs through the end of December, and United Way officials expect the fund will be used more than ever in 2021 — particularly by people who have been relying on COVID-19- related assistance that will no longer be available.

Ashley is now Gary's caregiver and teacher for her children as they toggle between in-person school and virtual learning.

Life continues to throw them curveballs. The hardest part for Gary and Ashley has been telling their three children they can't do things or enjoy simple luxuries they were used to having. That hardship has been amplified around the holidays.

"It's hard for them to see us struggle and wanting to do certain things other kids are doing and they just can't, just because we can't afford it," Ashley said.

Gary is getting better every day, but it's a slow process. He's going to physical therapy to strengthen his heart.

Gary's sister, Brenda Reid, has done everything she can for the young family in these trying times.

"It's been really hard because it happened all at once," Reid said. "My focus has been trying to keep the stress off of him. He worries about the bills and has always provided for his family. It's just the stress that hurts everybody."

Contact Patrick Filbin at or 423-757-6476. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickFilbin.