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Contributed photo / Felicia Pace, middle, is pictured hugging her daughter Sophia, 4, while surrounded by her family, including Jakobe, 11, far left; Dean, 13, back; Malaika, 10, bottom; and David, right.

The coronavirus pandemic hit Felicia Pace's six-person family especially hard.

Pace and several members of the household came down with COVID-19 about a year ago, which forced her out of work without pay for four weeks.

"That really hurt us. We tried to get some loans, so now we owe those loans, and I am pretty behind on everything," said Pace, who is hearing impaired and spoke through an interpreter. "Little by little, I've been paying them off. I told my kids it's just been really, really hard. So for Christmas, I'm not going to be able to give them many gifts. But I just want to make sure my kids are happy."

She has four children — Sophia, Malaika, Jakobe and Dean — ranging in age from 4 to almost 13.

Pace said she only recently applied for Neediest Cases assistance. When she receives the funds, she'll use the $750 to help with rent, utilities and food.

"It's just basic stuff that we need to continue living," she said, noting that the expense of raising four children given their current circumstance can be overwhelming.

Adding to the stress, her oldest son has developed a thyroid condition that's causing several health issues, including significant weight gain. Pace said his doctors are still trying to diagnose the issue so they can better treat him, because he continues to gain weight even with diet and exercise.

"We're going through a lot now with him and his emotional health. It's been hard for me, as you can imagine, to go through this. But I'm doing my best to help him," she said.

Assistance through the Neediest Cases Fund will go a long way toward a better life in the new year, Pace said.

"I cry when I think about it. It's just so inspirational," she said. "I wish I could come up to every [donor] and give you hugs."

Started in 1914 by former Chattanooga Times Publisher Adolph Ochs, the Neediest Cases Fund provides one-time assistance to people like Lewis, who are faced with unforeseen circumstances that 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.

Recipients are required to be employed to receive assistance from the fund, which fulfills basic needs such as housing, utilities and food to those who need help to become self-sufficient.

Last year, readers donated more than $80,000 to the fund, almost doubling the giving seen in a typical campaign year.

Donations to the Neediest Cases Fund campaign are accepted through the end of December.

Contact Elizabeth Fite at efite@timesfreepress.com or follow her on Twitter @ecfite.

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