When former Chattanooga Times publisher Adolph Ochs established the Neediest Cases Fund in 1914, he was inspired by a homeless man he met on the street on Christmas Day. Instead of just handing him money, Ochs offered the man a job.
Ochs also tasked a reporter with telling the stories of 100 local individuals experiencing poverty or crisis. While the stories made no request for donation, they moved readers to give.
Now an annual fundraising campaign conducted by the Times Free Press between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, the Neediest Cases Fund raised $46,569.86 in 2019.
Funds 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.
The idea behind the fund is to provide people who are faced with unforeseen circumstances that leave them unable to meet their basic needs with one-time assistance to help them get back on their feet.
"We work with so many people who are working and trying to provide for their families, and then there's an emergency situation and before they know it they have gotten behind," said Carmen Hutson, who manages the fund for United Way. "Neediest Cases assists those individuals to continue on the right path despite any unforeseen circumstances."
Last year's recipients requested amounts ranging from $260 to $500 to cover needs such as rent, utilities and car repairs.
One recipient, a single mother, lost her job due to frequent absences when her disabled child, who previously lived with his father, began living with her full time. The stress of the transition caused her child to have behavioral issues at school, and she often had to leave work to help deal with those issues.
She requested help with her electric bill from a partner agency, which provided her with money from the Neediest Cases Fund to keep her power from being disconnected until she started her new full-time job.
Kathleen Wright, a caseworker at Neediest Cases partner agency Family Promise of Greater Chattanooga, said she estimates that only 1% of fund recipients ask for help again — showing that often one-time assistance is all one needs to become financially stable.
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:
In memory of:
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.
Looking ahead to 2021
While the number of people requesting assistance from Neediest Cases decreased in 2020 compared to 2019, that doesn't mean need decreased, said Stephen Van Gorp, vice president of communications for United Way of Greater Chattanooga.
He said the decline in requests for Neediest Cases funds in 2020 is more likely related to the fact that people were taking advantage of assistance related to the COVID-19 pandemic that will not be available in the coming year.
"We do think that the needs are going to increase in 2021," Van Gorp said. "There's still so much uncertainty as to what the future holds. We believe that the Neediest Cases Fund is going to be super vital as we look at rebuilding the paths toward financial stability and economic mobility."
The 2020 Neediest Cases campaign runs through Dec. 31, though people can request help through the fund year-round.
To read more stories of Neediest Cases fund recipients, visit timesfreepress.com/neediest-cases.
Contact Emily Crisman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6508.