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Times-News Rescue Fund designed to 'provide help to those who need it most'

December 12th, 2011 10:28 am by J. H. Osborne

Times-News Rescue Fund designed to 'provide help to those who need it most'

The Kingsport Times-News Rescue Fund is nearing its 40th anniversary. Through the generosity of the newspaper’s readers, the Rescue Fund has tried to make Christmas a little brighter for struggling families across our region each Christmas since 1973.

Times-News Managing Editor Ted Como, who has overseen the Rescue Fund from the newspaper’s end for nearly 30 years, said the process has evolved over the years, but the goal remains the same: Provide help to those who need it the most.

Here, in part, is the first Rescue Fund story, originally published in the Times-News on Nov. 22, 1973:

"A Christmas Rescue Fund will provide holiday help for some of the neediest families in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia this year. The fund has been organized by the Times-News in cooperation with life-saving and rescue squads throughout the area. It will serve as a channel through which food, clothing, toys, money and other forms of assistance can be given to the families who need them most."

Back then, the Times-News published a list of all the "families who will not be able to share in the bounty of Christmas without your help. The names and details have come from a variety of sources - from welfare agencies, volunteer groups and the rescue squads. In each case the need is real - vouched for by organizations in the home communities."

Then, beginning around Thanksgiving, the Rescue Fund would collect donations until about a week before Christmas.

A donation tag, printed in the newspaper, had to be clipped, completed and attached to all goods dropped off for the Fund.

"The tag should be clipped out and inserted in envelopes or pasted on boxes of goods, or pasted on cardboard and tied to other articles,"

the Nov. 22, 1973 story reads.

"All gifts of goods should be listed on the tag. Food must not be perishable. Clothing should be clean and in good repair, and toys in good working order. The tags have a space allowing the donor to specify which family they would like to assist, by number. The numbers appear with the stories on page 1 today and additional numbers will be assigned as other families are added.)"

All goods were then allocated to the needy families and delivered by the rescue squads on Christmas Eve.

"The fund operated this way in the initial years, and then evolved into a program of delivering food only, directly to needy families identified by social services agencies in the six counties served," Como said last week. "When I got here in 1983 and began serving as the program coordinator, the Rescue Fund accepted cash donations only. We identified basic staples which would be included in food "baskets" that would be delivered directly to needy families, and went to bid through local supermarkets for the foodstuffs.

"We would identify a location for a tractor-trailer load of food to be delivered at a specific date, about a week before Christmas. We would set up rollers in an assembly-line fashion, and enlist about 50 volunteers to man stations along the line of rollers to insert foodstuffs into boxes. The boxes would be taped shut, addressed and then sent to county staging areas where additional volunteers would deliver them right to the front doors of the needy families."

But that whole process cost a few thousand dollars for supplies (boxes, tape, etc.) and required an enormous amount of coordination.

The address of every needy family had to be identified on maps. Routes would then have to be established for delivery volunteers to follow in delivering the food to specific addresses.

"This required months of work and was only made possible by Eastman Chemical allowing several of its employees the time to obtain the addresses and numbers of family members as cleared through social service agencies, map the routes, and coordinate the delivery program with volunteers in six counties," Como said. It also required good weather. One year, the tractor trailer full of food got held up in a snowstorm, forcing the entire distribution to be rescheduled.

"Over time, as the need – and donations – grew, it became a nearly impossible task to carry out the program this way," Como said. "I don’t recall exactly when, but around 15 years ago or so, I thought it would be much easier to simply mail food vouchers to recipients. The Salvation Army, which already had its own clearinghouse process underway to provide help to the needy, seemed a natural partner and I approached them. They agreed to serve that role for Sullivan, Hawkins and Scott Counties. I arranged for the departments of social services in Lee and Wise to screen applicants and then send those names to the Salvation Army. And that’s how the program continues to operate."

For many families across Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia, the Christmas season brings no relief from a daily concern: having enough food to get through the month, the week, or even the day.

For many families in our region, the struggle to keep food on the table is ongoing, be it Christmas or not.

The struggle for the basics far outweighs and undoubtedly obscures any thought of the traditional holiday extras come mealtime.

The Times-News Rescue Fund, which aims to put a little extra food on the holiday tables of some of the region’s less fortunate families, began in mid-November.

"It's been a very bad year for many folks in our region who have lost their jobs or have suffered serious illness and are surviving on unemployment checks that hardly keep a roof over their heads, much less feed their children. " Como said then. "Rescue Fund food vouchers, provided by donations from Times-News readers, do more than bring in some groceries. They show these folks, our neighbors, that they're not fighting alone, that others care and stand ready to help, that we're all in it together. That's the real spirit of the holiday season and it's reflected every year in this unique part of the country where people always stand ready to help others, regardless of their own circumstances."

Como said the newspaper’s readers have long proved the generosity of the communities throughout the region.

That spirit is evidenced each Christmas season by continued support for the Rescue Fund, Como said.

"We had a remarkable campaign last year," Como said. "Despite the economy, Times-News readers contributed a record $58,361 - a 17 percent increase over 2009 donations. This is so heartwarming given that more families than ever are facing tough times."

The Times-News Rescue Fund is one of the few charitable campaigns where every penny donated goes directly to the needy — the newspaper absorbs all administrative costs, Como said.

The number of families seeking assistance through the Rescue Fund has risen by several hundred in just the past couple of years, according to Salvation Army officials. In 2008, the Rescue Fund served about 1,700 families; in 2009 and last year, the number rose to over 1,900. The dollar amount of food vouchers typically ranges from $20 to $55, based on the size of the family.

Most families served by the Rescue Fund range from three to four members. Last year, a family of three received a voucher for $25, while a family of four got a voucher worth $30.

"It’s just to help supplement food for the holidays," said Sarah Moody, office manager for the Salvation Army. "Without help from the Rescue Fund, these families would not have anything extra for Christmas. Concerns about food have been a primary focus of those asking us for help this Christmas. It might not sound like much money to a lot of people, but as people came in through the application process, it was clear they really wanted to make sure we knew they needed help with food."

Tax-deductible donations can be made to the Times-News Rescue Fund at P.O. Box 479, Kingsport, Tenn. 37662.

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