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Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Rhea County United Way Executive Director Christine Ralph, shown in the Dayton office, has helped to facilitate aid from the Chattanooga Times Free Press's Neediest Cases campaign.

The annual appeal for the Times Free Press Neediest Cases Fund had one of its most successful years ever in 2020, with donations near $80,000 — nearly doubling a typical campaign year.

"It seems that despite the fact that we're in a pandemic, people are really giving more than normal, and I think it's because they understand that the need is great," said Carmen Hutson, director of stability and community programming for United Way of Greater Chattanooga. "I think what people want to know is that their money is going to somebody that is hardworking, and due to no fault of their own are struggling, and this money is to help them to maintain stability."

Administered by the United Way of Greater Chattanooga, the Neediest Cases Fund provides one-time assistance throughout the year to Chattanooga-area residents in need who are faced with unforeseen circumstances.

Recipients must be working or on a fixed income, and their most common requests involve fulfilling basic needs such as housing and food.

Angie Drake, administrative assistant at United Way of Rhea County, said she always pictures herself in the positions of the people who come to the agency requesting help, and it means a lot to her to be able to assist them with funds from Neediest Cases.

"Because you never know," she said. "It could be you. It could be me. It could be a family member or friend."

People can request funds from Neediest Cases throughout the year, and with many sources of pandemic-related assistance no longer available, the United Way is expecting Neediest Cases requests to increase in 2021.

"We are grateful for the generosity of our community," said Alison Gerber, editor of the Times Free Press. "All of the money raised for the Neediest Cases Fund stays in the community and goes directly to people who need assistance."

Hutson said the recovery from COVID-19 "is going to be very long. Neediest Cases is really going to come in handy in the coming year."

Contact Emily Crisman at ecrisman@timesfreepress.com.

Contact Tierra Hayes at tierrathejournalist@gmail.com.

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