How to help
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Single Pikeville, Tenn., mom Tosha Morris Sage's family purse took a hit at the worst possible time when her husband was jailed for a traffic violation a little over a year ago.
Sage, 23, was seven months pregnant with her third child in October 2013 and struggling with complications that made it hard for her to work at her minimum-wage job and keep up with the bills, she said.
"It was like everything came piling in at once," she said. Utilities were about to be cut off and the rent was behind.
"I was trying to find somebody that would help me and I went to Serenity Thrift [operated by Serenity Pointe Mission]," Sage said. Folks there got in touch with the United Way and explained Sage's situation.
That information was relayed to Neediest Cases Fund workers.
"They said they'd do $100 to pay the electricity bill to keep my lights on," the mother of three said.
"I was in tears when I went to sign the papers. I was at such a hard point at that time, that for them to be able to help me keep my lights on was a miracle," Sage said. "She also gave me a box springs and mattress, too, because I just had a mattress that was on the floor."
The Neediest Cases Fund began a century ago in 1914 at The Chattanooga Times newspaper, and has continued on with the Times Free Press after the two papers merged in 1999. Throughout the year, money is collected in the fund to help those in need who don't qualify for other types of aid.
As of Tuesday, the fund for 2014 had reached $40,244.13. The holiday appeal officially concludes today, but donations will continue to be accepted and acknowledged in the newspaper.
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Sage's is a situation the outreach sees all too often, said Diane Jarvis, Neediest Cases manager at the United Way of Greater Chattanooga.
"Women are often most vulnerable while pregnant," Jarvis said.
"There are less opportunities for employment, and the physical limitations of the pregnancy can cause them to be unable to help themselves or children already in the home," she said. "When a husband leaves the household, or his income is lost for whatever reason, it puts an often insurmountable burden on the wife left behind trying to hold the family together."
That's where the Neediest Cases Fund comes in.
"Single mothers make up a large percentage of the callers to 2-1-1 and referrals to Neediest Cases," Jarvis said. "Whether due to divorce, incarceration or domestic violence, single mothers are often left alone to provide for their children and therefore to have to seek assistance."
Rural folks often struggle because of the lack of help, she said.
"There are limited resources in rural areas like Sequatchie County, so it is good that Neediest Cases can provide the assistance needed to keep a family in their home when circumstances threaten their stability," she said.
Sage said she wished Neediest Cases could get more donations to help families like hers.
"I know people could use them if they had more funds to reach out to needy families," she said. "When I came in contact with the Neediest Cases Fund, I literally had nobody else to turn to."
Sage said her immediate goals are to keep the bills paid, get hired permanently where she's working now as a temporary worker and keeping her 6-year-old daughter and her 18-month-old and 3-month-old sons happy and well.
Contact staff writer Ben Benton at email@example.com or twitter.com/BenBenton or www.facebook.com/ben.benton1 or 423-757-6569.
Contact staff writer Kendi Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592.