Representatives of the Forgotten Child Fund, a nonprofit group that has been providing Christmas gifts to thousands of Chattanooga's underprivileged children for more than 50 years, are asking the public for help finding a new home.
"We've been informed by the mayor of Chattanooga, Andy Berke, and his administration that we have to vacate the premises here in our warehouse — [where] we've been for the last 11 years — on Feb. 28," the organization's president Kelly Simmons told reporters Monday afternoon.
The organization leases its warehouse, at 1815 E. Main St., from the city for $1 per year. It shares the space with two other nonprofits: the Chattanooga Furniture Bank and the Chattanooga Regional Homeless Coalition, organization spokesperson Clay Ingle said.
The city, which spends $60,000 a year to maintain the building, has said the property is an unmarketable brownfield due to it being the former site of a beauty supply manufacturer.
However, the city made arrangements to either donate or sell the site in 2016, according to city officials, and has been keeping Forgotten Child Fund officials updated since at least 2013.
"The Forgotten Child Fund and the Chattanooga Furniture Bank have done incredible work to help our residents each year, and we are grateful for their years of service to Chattanoogans," Donna Williams, department of economic and community development administrator, said in a statement. "The Mayor's Office and the Department of Economic and Community Development have been working with them to find a solution and ways they could receive city funding.
Call the Forgotten Child Fund at 423-697-0031 or visit www.forgottenchildfund.org.
"We are equally excited to continue moving forward with a plan for this site that will provide stable, safe, long-term housing for people in our city who need it the most, and we are grateful to the Forgotten Child Fund for their understanding and cooperation in this critical project."
Since December of last year, the city has been in conversations with two nonprofits — the AIM Center and the Vecino Group — to donate the property to be transformed into 60 affordable housing units, with supportive units for those with mental illnesses.
It would be at no cost to the city, and the city would rid itself of the maintenance cost, though the new owners would have to enter into a brownfield agreement with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to improve upon the site's environmental issues.
The proposed new development has already been a point of contention among the surrounding neighborhoods and the city.
Earlier this year, a couple dozen community members gathered to voice their concerns about the impact the development would have on their property values and what kind of people it would bring to the neighborhood.
And at a February meeting of the City Council, Simmons expressed his own concerns over what he said was a lack of conversation about where the Forgotten Child Fund could move or whether the city could even provide a new location.
Officials say that the city has worked with the fund to help it find space that would accommodate its needs, although the city does not have any additional warehouse space available.
As of now, Ingle said, the group is not worried about the city's decisions.
"We're not wanting to be controversial," he said. "We just want to make sure no child is forgotten Christmas morning."
Since 1965, the Forgotten Child Fund has been providing Christmas toys to children whose families can't afford them. And every Christmas Eve, the fund selects a group of families to visit with its "Santa Train," a procession of police cars, firetrucks and ambulances, all with emergency lights and sirens on.
Dozens of first responders and their families — even Santa Claus himself — join the train each year and carry boxes and bags full of toys as excited children watch from their homes, curious about the commotion.