Hope Chest has become 'holiday miracle all year round'

Editor's note: Light One Candle is an annual series sponsored by the Mail Tribune that focuses on an individual, group or agency that could use a helping hand during the holiday season. Once that need is filled, donations may be distributed to others in need. The series continues until Dec. 23.

United Way of Jackson County launched HOPE (Helping Out People Everyday) Chest in 2009 in partnership with the Mail Tribune to help people with needs ranging from surgical stockings to wood for heating homes and rent and power-bill assistance.

How to help

Donations to the Hope Chest can be sent to United Way of Jackson County, 769 Spring St., Medford, OR 97504 or made online at www.unitedwayofjacksoncounty.org/hope-chest. For information, call United Way at 541-773-5339.

The constant demand for help amid the economic downturn means the fund is emptied regularly.

"It's a holiday miracle all year round," said Dee Anne Everson, executive director of United Way. "But things have gotten so hard, we went through $5,000 in 45 minutes recently. And we don't have money available right now."

Recipients are referred by nonprofit organizations, church organizations, social workers or case managers. Each can receive up to $350 in financial aid once a year, which can help a veteran stay warm, a single mother keep her job or a student stay in school, she said.

The smallest Hope Chest check Everson cut was for $7. The money covered a late-book fee that a student who had aged out of foster care had received. Without paying the fine, the student would have lost his student loan, she said.

A veteran had been without power since June. Unable to pay the $242 bill, the man had moved into a shelter as the weather turned too cold for him to stay in his freezing home, Everson said.

Another one-time fix helped a single mom keep her job and the roof over her family. The heater in the woman's car was broken. She needed the vehicle to deliver pizza. She needed the car to be warm because she took her children with her on her deliveries as she was unable to afford day care for her children. But a check from the Hope Chest, made available entirely through community donors, saved the day, Everson said.

"It paid to fix the heater in her Jeep," she said. "It allowed her to keep her job, and keep her kids with her and they stopped getting sick."

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