Want to change a life this holiday season? Consider donating a few dollars to the Hope Chest.

Want to change a life this holiday season? Consider donating a few dollars to the Hope Chest.

United Way of Jackson County launched the HOPE, or 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.

Advocates of this emergency fund of last resort say they see time and again how small amounts of cash can stem the cascading effect of tragic circumstances.

"We live in a community where a lot of people live one crisis away from being in serious trouble," said Dee Anne Everson, executive director of United Way.

Everson said she is grateful to live in a community that is incredibly generous, which is good because the constant demand for help amid the economic downturn means the fund is emptied regularly to pay for everything from fixing a carburetor to buying fuel to paying rent, she said.

"Today we turned the power on for a guy who was born in 1925," Everson said, adding they also restored power to the home of a single mom with three kids.

Recipients are referred by nonprofit organizations, church organizations, social workers and case managers, Everson said.

"We honor and trust the work they are doing," Everson said. "These are the folks who are working directly with the providers and know what their needs are."

Each recipient 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.

Barb Sonday, a family advocate for Head Start, said the "amazing resource" provides direct support to those who need it most, when they need it most.

Sonday's caseload consists of 40 of the 160 families who have children attending Head Start's Merriman Campus in Medford.

One mother with children at Head Start managed to graduate from school as a certified nursing assistant. Looking forward to being able to support her family, the woman was stymied by one thing — a $156 license fee. Hope Chest came to the rescue, and the mom now is gainfully employed, Sonday said.

Another mother with a new job needed some money to repair her car. The $225 for the car part was "the difference between her losing her job or not," she said.

"We've also used the funds to pay several power bills for families with small children," Sonday said, adding cold winter nights can be dangerous for young children, especially if they have health concerns.

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 (specify Hope Chest). For more information, call United Way at 541-773-5339.