Tim Rutledge's family including son Tim Jr., left, lost their home in a fire but were able to move into a new one with help from the Neediest Cases Fund.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- It was a cold night in November 2013 when Tim Rutledge and his wife, watching TV on the couch, began smelling smoke in their trailer.

"I knew right away from the smell it was an electrical fire," Rutledge said. "I opened my son's door and his bed was on fire."

The couple's four children were away for the night. Rutledge and his wife acted quickly, saving themselves and their Chihuahua puppies before the ceiling collapsed, but they lost everything except the pajamas they were wearing.

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The fire also destroyed Rutledge's truck and all of his tools, his livelihood -- he owned and operated Rutledge Moving and Remodeling.

"I lost my home and my income," Rutledge said.

But, within days, the Rutledge family says, they wanted for nothing.

"I'm in no way perfect, and just couldn't believe the outpour of help from strangers," Rutledge said.

A car came from one of their son's teachers at Walker Valley High School. Furniture and clothes were donated from the Second Harvest Thrift Store. Household supplies arrived by the carload.

But their landlord, who was cited because investigators found faulty wiring caused the fire, wanted to charge the family $300 to move into another rental trailer, Rutledge said.

The family didn't have the money, but their long-time friend and pastor, Joe Hanshaw, directed them to the Neediest Cases Fund.

The Neediest Cases Fund, started by the Chattanooga Times in 1914, annually asks readers to donate money to help people in the area. The fund partners with the United Way to allocate the money raised to help specific families in need.

Hanshaw, a pastor at North Cleveland Church of God, said the church frequently works with other organizations, like the Neediest Cases Fund, to help provide resources to people in need.

Rutledge describes Hanshaw as a light in his life, and appreciates the fund for providing the $300 deposit that helped his family stabilize.

Rutledge and his oldest son, Tim Rutledge Jr., 28, were just hired at a local industrial facility and are able to pay rent.

"Life is peaceful now," Rutledge said. "We've been blessed. ... This new trailer feels more like home than where we were [before the fire]."

Tim Jr. said the only thing the family really misses since the fire is their pictures.

"We miss the pictures of all of us as babies," he said. "Everything else was just stuff."

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