For three weeks in August, Phyllis Shutt sat in her double-wide trailer in Cleveland, Tenn., waiting for her missing daughter to come home.

Shutt said she always believed her daughter, Latasha Nichols, 36, would eventually return.

With long pauses and deep breaths, Shutt recounted the day she received the phone call telling her that a body had been found in the Hiwassee River, a body authorities believed was her daughter.

"We've always been poor and life has been hard," Shutt said. "But nothing is like losing your child."

Shutt described losing her daughter as crippling, and she said the funeral expenses only made things worse.

"I don't ever have money left over from my disability checks," she said.

The funeral expenses depleted all of the money Shutt had, and in September she had nothing left to pay her power bill.

She decided to go to the North Cleveland Church of God to seek help.

Carol Aber, director of benevolence ministry at the church, said she listened to Shutt's story and did what she frequently does -- turned to the Neediest Cases Fund for help.

The Neediest Cases Fund is an assistance program coordinated through the United Way and was started 100 years ago by Adolph Ochs, publisher of The Chattanooga Times newspaper.

Throughout the holiday season, the Times Free Press continues the tradition and collects donations from readers to help those in need.

"When Shutt came in she could hardly talk from crying," Aber said. "I was glad to be able to help her ... and did my best to encourage."

Aber said she worked with Shutt and the power company, and was glad the Neediest Cases Fund was able to help.

Shutt said she was on the edge of a nervous breakdown, and receiving help to keep the lights and air on was a small relief.

Contact staff writer Kendi Anderson at or at 423-757-6592.