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Times News Rescue Fund marks 47th year

J. H. Osborne • Nov 10, 2019 at 7:45 AM

KINGSPORT — The Times News Rescue Fund, which collects donations from the newspaper’s readers to provide food to families in need, began in 1973. It has changed quite a bit, evolving over the years since, from its formal name to the way donations are collected and delivered. But its simple goal remains steadfast: help others have a better Christmas.

The Times News Rescue Fund is a nonprofit corporation. Its board of directors consists of members of Times News management. The newspaper publishes stories each Christmas season to raise awareness, telling readers a bit about a few of the hundreds of families served by the effort each year.

Although the fund bears the name of the newspaper, it belongs to the communities it serves and each and every person who makes a donation, no matter how big or small. To quote from a 1991 editorial: “It really isn’t OUR Rescue Fund. We simply administer it. It is YOUR Rescue Fund.”

Every penny helps the less fortunate in our region. 

“The Times News is privileged to conduct the program. But it is our readers who make it possible,” Times News Publisher Rick Thomason says. 

History

• In 1973, employees of the Times News launched what was dubbed the Times News Christmas Rescue Fund.

• During the fund’s early years, the newspaper accepted donations of money, food, clothing, toys and household items. 

• Families were invited to apply for food baskets, which would be delivered to their homes a few days before Christmas.

• In addition to Times News employees, the all-volunteer operation — sorting goods, using donated money to buy more food, packing and delivering boxes to hundreds of families across six counties — was supported by several civic and social service clubs.

• Within a few years, the U.S. Naval Reserve Center became the central clearing house, packing center and distribution hub. Reserve members provided much of the volunteer support. Rescue squads, fire departments and other emergency agencies assisted in delivering the food baskets (boxes, actually). Sometimes members of the public also volunteered.

• Eventually the Rescue Fund accepted only monetary donations and purchased food, canned and fresh, in bulk.

• Applications for assistance have always been screened by social service organizations, such as the Salvation Army or Department of Human Services offices.

• 1993 was the final year the Rescue Fund’s distribution was staged from the U.S. Naval Reserve Center, which was deactivated in 1994.

• In 1994, distribution was staged at Dickson Center, in the gym. It would be the last year the Rescue Fund used volunteers to box and deliver food.

• In 1995, the Times News Rescue Fund furthered its existing partnership with the Salvation Army, which already had been screening about 50% of the families receiving help from the program.

• In making the decision, the fund’s board members pointed to logistics (for three years, the number of families served had been limited because volunteers could process and deliver only so many boxes in a single day across such a broad geographic area), loss of the Reserve Center and a growing cost of purchasing and boxing the food (boxes alone cost $5,000 for the 1994 distribution). The Rescue Fund switched to a food voucher program, which would eliminate costs, meaning more money could go toward food.

• Families began receiving food vouchers, which could not be used for alcohol or tobacco, from local grocery stores.

• The first year of the switch, and the partnership with the Salvation Army, the number of households served increased from 750 to 1,025.

• Today the Rescue Fund’s partnership with the Salvation Army of Kingsport continues. And food distribution has come full circle in a way. The Salvation Army purchases food items in bulk, and volunteers pack boxes to be given to families. And the Rescue Fund serves families in Lee, Scott and Wise counties in Virginia, and the western end of Sullivan County and Hawkins County in Tennessee.

As with any program of this type, success is dependent on the caring and charity of those who contribute to help the less fortunate, Thomason said.

All donations will be listed in the newspaper, although donors may choose to remain anonymous. Many who have donated to the Rescue Fund through the years have done so in memory of a loved one.

Tax-deductible donations can be made to the Times News Rescue Fund, 701 Lynn Garden Dr., Kingsport, TN, 37660.

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