But few have known true hunger — the severity of which weakens, debilitates and lends little hope for a brighter day nor a better tomorrow.
It is the deepest abyss of despair. For some families in Cleveland and Bradley County, it is real. As difficult as it is to believe in a community as thriving as ours, this travesty does occur.
Hunger’s cellar of desperation strikes children the hardest.
These are the innocent.
These are the helpless.
These are our little ones who came to earth as tiny angels unaware of their surroundings, incapable of judgment and helpless to resolve their plight of poverty.
Theirs are the mouths we as a community must feed; and in so doing, we must stand beside frightened young parents whose meager paychecks will go only so far as warming cold beds this winter, paying rent, buying medicine, struggling with doctors’ fees and with the few dollars that remain, bringing home only a lone bag of groceries ... barely enough to sustain even the smallest of appetites.
Winter is a time of greatest need.
Bills are at their highest. Temperatures are their lowest. And the hunger aches deepest in the small frames whose frail bodies know only the pained reality of ... more hunger.
Many splendid churches and worthy organizations feed those in need throughout the year, but their limited resources become drained during the crippling cold of these winter months.
Their acts of kindness are our salvation because the torment of the hungry is our reality. The well-being of those who hunger is our moral mandate.
Their sustenance and their very lives are the reasons for longtime programs like the William Hall Rodgers Christmas Basket Fund, an annual campaign named in honor of a former newspaperman who believed in the power of the press, but most importantly, he understood the potential of the heart.
The former Cleveland Banner editor’s untimely death came in 1942, a victim of polio. Yet even in illness, his loving outreach helped thousands of Cleveland and Bradley County residents who called this community home long before today’s generation. His leadership was a beacon of kindness that lit a trail of humanity paved in pure love.
While delivering the news by day, this community-minded editor worked closely with Associated Charities to help local families in need at Christmas. He was the son of the late Mr. and Mrs. Will L. Rodgers. His father and uncle, the late Walter Rodgers, were owners of the Banner when it changed from a weekly to a daily newspaper in 1922.
Rodgers embraced Associated Charities around 1938, and the experience changed his entire outlook on life. He saw the need for himself. He witnessed the opportunity that lay before him — first, as a veteran of the newspaper industry; and second, as a man of humanity.
Battling polio for years, the humanitarian editor died in his early 30s when stricken by a heart attack caused by complications from his dread disease.
In its years since, the Basket Fund has been heralded by many organizations. The Bradley County Ministerial Association and the Cleveland Jaycees were among the first.
Now, the fund is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) and it is operated solely by volunteers, many of whom are members of the First Baptist Church congregation. Other churches lend their support and all are area residents giving of their time without expectation.
On Dec. 22, these unpaid samaritans will distribute food baskets at Tri-State Exhibition Center to as many as 910 local residents who are most in need of this type of assistance.
Over the years, our newspaper has featured — and endorsed — many heartfelt causes. We proudly count the William Hall Rodgers Basket Fund among a group of community favorites.
As such, we now ask your help. Like most endeavors of its type, the Basket Fund can operate only through contributions. Those wishing to send donations may do so to: William Hall Rodgers Christmas Basket Fund, First Tennessee Bank, P.O. Box 4880, Cleveland, TN 37320-4880.
Your entire gift — 100 percent — goes directly to the Basket Fund toward the purchase of its food staples.
No volunteer is paid a stipend.
But all take home a personal reward.