Ginnie Graham: Neediest Families Fund drive offers help, hope
BY GINNIE GRAHAM World Staff Writer
Saturday, November 24, 2012
11/24/12 at 3:59 AM
Reporting stories for the Tulsa World's annual Neediest Families Fund drive is one of the most emotionally draining assignments in the newsroom.
It is also one of the most rewarding.
Five years ago, I took on the task and remember details of the interviews:
He said he prayed for death, thinking it would help make life easier for his family.
- A father rolled his wheelchair into another room to hide tears from his sons as he spoke of a sudden job loss and his rare skin disease.
These stories are heartbreaking. Unfortunately, they aren't rare.
- A 26-year-old uninsured mother went through chemotherapy two days before Christmas. Her long-term prognosis was not good.
- A 7-year-old boy with sickle cell drew a picture of Santa and a tree as his mother explained how medical costs were leading to bankruptcy. He gave me the drawing and a hug when I left.
Providing hope: Cathy Kumm at The Salvation Army has headed the project since 2005 as the emergency financial assistance case manager.
"I feel like I'm going through all of this with them," she said. "On the other hand, someone can reach out, and we can give them help. It makes it all worthwhile. To see the emotional hardship drain from their faces, even if it's for just a little while, is worth it."
A majority of families are dealing with runaway health-care costs. There are job losses and quite a few accidents, including traffic and fire.
"This has made me come to grips with the fact that one single thing can turn a life upside down," Kumm said. "Everything will be fine, then the next minute something happens and it all spirals downhill. This program gives them hope and takes the pressure off."
One of the first checks to arrive each year comes from Tulsa resident Virgil Hensley.
"God's enabled us to live comfortably and we're grateful for that. The Salvation Army is a wonderful organization, and I'm glad the Tulsa World is supporting them."
During the past two years, the nonprofit has experienced more people needing help.
"When I read those stories, I realize how desperate some people are," Hensley said. "Christmas is a time to celebrate Christ's birth, and giving gifts to each other is a big part of that."
Families benefit: In 1928, the Tulsa Tribune started this project by profiling a boy and girl abandoned by their parents.
The father was "somewhere in the oil fields," and their mother left them in the care of a relative, who left them with the Welfare Society to be raised.
"Hardly more than babies, they nevertheless feel themselves deserted, and sometimes cry with loneliness," the article states. "If some Tulsa Santa Claus could give these children warm clothing, they would appreciate it."
Another profile featured a "little Englishwoman widow" who needed food for her 4-year-old daughter.
"My little girl hears others talking about Santa Claus and asks me what he will bring her. I have nothing for her," the woman said.
That year, 25 families were adopted.
The Tulsa World took over the tradition after the Tribune closed in 1992 and has raised more than $5 million.
Poverty can be a complex issue, but these stories explain how many of our neighbors end up in the ranks of the poor.
"We give as a show of support and hope it inspires others to give, even if all they can give is $5," Hensley said.
Original Print Headline: Fund drive offers help and hope