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Samantha Thomas was getting by last spring, but barely.
She is a single mother to two 16-year-old boys with autism, and she relies on their disability money as well as the small amount of money she earns while they're at school to pay her bills. Her mother helped her out, but her mother was fighting liver disease. Last winter, when Thomas drove her mother to Atlanta to see if Thomas could donate part of her liver, they received some more bad news.
During the testing process, Thomas said, doctors found that her mother had breast cancer that had spread to her lungs and brain.
"They decided not to do anything," Thomas said. "They were just going to let her die."
On Feb. 20, her mother died. With that event, Thomas' tenuous stability began to waver.
"I had taken on all [my mother's] accounts, so that then made me liable for them when she passed," Thomas said. "I had to pay them."
She said she was "drowning" between the funeral expenses, her mother's bills and her own bills. In March, her children temporarily were taken from her by the Department of Children's Services. She had pulled them out of school because of what she said was the inadequate education they were receiving as special-needs students.
Between all of this, she got a call from EPB that her power was going to be cut off after she failed to make a payment.
It was then that she found Metropolitan Ministries, and people there directed her to Neediest Cases.
Diane Jarvis, Neediest Cases manager at the United Way of Greater Chattanooga, said when a loved one dies it often can cause families to fall into chaos.
"Most of these people, they're paying their bills, they're living pretty much paycheck to paycheck," she said, "and when there's a death in the family, not only is there a financial burden, there's that emotional burden."
Rebecca Whelchel, executive director at Metropolitan Ministries, said what stuck out to her about Thomas' case was her abilities as a manager of her household.
"She must be an incredible manager, really ... to be able to have this household," Whelchel said.
To help keep Thomas' power on, Neediest Cases gave her $158.14, but she hasn't needed any assistance since.
Thomas said now she's hoping to go back to school, if she can save up the money to take the test for her GED. Her boys are back with her and back in school. Without Neediest Cases, she said, she wasn't sure how she would have managed last February.