Two weeks from today is Christmas Day. When we think of the generous spirits of people at Christmas, we think of nephew Fred's entreaty to his Uncle Scrooge in Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol."
"But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round ... ," he began to his miserly, sour relative in the 1843 novel, "as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys."
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To donate to the fund, visit, or send checks payable to United Way of Greater Chattanooga at United Way, 630 Market St., Chattanooga, Tenn., 37402.
Now, we'd like to think more people in this corner of the world don't have their hearts closed for the rest of the year, as Fred suggested they did in Dickens' England, and we'd also like to hope that in giving, people today aren't just considering "people below them" but simply people whose fortunes at the moment are not as bright as they could be.
Chattanoogans, as a lot, are a generous people throughout the year, be it in general charitable giving, in donations for public-private ventures, in contributions for those in the way of natural disasters, or in providing money for memorials and tributes.
But the season of Christmas in the Christian tradition, and in other holidays in other faith traditions, has long seen the custom of exchanging gifts, of remembering those who have less and simply of being generous. For others, minus the faith component, the end of the year brings the desire to offset their tax burden by making charitable contributions.
The Chattanooga Times Free Press and its predecessors, for more than a century, have offered mechanisms for area residents to help their neighbors at this time of year. In 1914, The New York Times and Chattanooga Times Publisher Adolph Ochs began the local Neediest Cases Fund to assist people in the community with one-time needs to help them get back on their feet.
In an era where economists say practically anyone who wants a job can have one, where job openings exceed the number of people looking for work and where government assistance is plentiful, it's hard to imagine people falling on hard times.
But it happens, it can happen quickly, it can happen unexpectedly and it can happen without a single mistake being made by the breadwinner in question.
A company closing. A medical emergency. A parent or child in crisis. A stolen identity. A broken-down car. A fire.
If a family lives on the edge — getting by but having no money to spare — any of the above occurrences could be disastrous. They could spell the difference in making a house payment, in choosing medicine over food, in choosing food over heat, in not being able to work, in not being able to get to work.
In many instances, though, a relatively small amount of money might make the difference in paying a heating bill, a month's rent or mortgage, car repairs, medicine or a water bill.
That's where the Neediest Cases Fund comes in. Throughout the year — not just during the holidays — the United Way of Greater Chattanooga draws from the fund to assist individuals and families in need. The assistance might help in some of the dire circumstances spelled out above, but in the past few years it also has helped pay for school fees, dentures, certification fees, transportation, hearing aids, and even a used washer and dryer.
According to organization records, the greatest need in recent years has been for assistance with rent or mortgage. Eight years ago, it was assistance with electric bills.
In recent years, generous Chattanoogans helped 241 families with $69,593 raised in 2016 and more than 300 families with more than $47,000 collected in 2014.
Funds for this year will be collected until the end of the month. The local United Way manages the fund, screens recipients and distributes the determined amounts. Names of readers who contribute are printed in the Sunday editions of the newspaper.
With two weeks until Christmas and three weeks until the end of the year, there is still time to be — to use nephew Fred's words — "kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant" people. Your contribution might be a lifeline between someone hanging on and someone being forced to let go.