published Thursday, November 24th, 2011

Neediest Cases fund helps tornado victims survive

by Andrew Pantazi
  • photo
    Keith Poe rearranges the area around his sink in his new kitchen Wednesday. Poe and his son, Tanner, 16, lost their home and barely escaped with their lives during an April tornado. The Poes received $150 from the Neediest Cases fund for food and gas.
    Photo by Jake Daniels.
    enlarge photo

The only meat in Keith Poe's freezer is eight palm-sized packs of frozen venison from a doe his son shot and a turkey somebody gave him.

Poe was living in a mobile home with his 16-year-old son, Tanner, when a tornado came down Clonts Road in Apison on April 27. Poe was sleeping; Tanner was on his PlayStation 3. A neighbor called with a warning and the father and son crossed the street to a ditch.

Poe wrapped his body around Tanner, who clutched a drainage culvert. The howling storm dropped a large tree limb on Poe's back.

Poe's a manual laborer, always has been. He's not educated, so desk jobs never suited him. Instead, he worked through Express Employment, a temp agency that set him up with jobs at cement companies and manufacturing plants.

He tried to go back to work after his back injury, but his blood pressure skyrocketed and he ended up at Memorial Hospital, racking up medical bills, which he'd later say were screaming at him.

He hasn't worked since May, instead relying on donations and support from friends, family, churches, organizations -- and now the Times Free Press' Neediest Cases fund.

At the end of September, Poe asked for $150 for food and gas.

"I've never had to ask no one for nothing," he said. "I didn't know what to do. I didn't know where to turn."

He's been helped by the Samaritan Center, Long-Term Recovery, churches in states such as California and Pennsylvania, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, so Poe says he thinks he's set until the end of the year. But he doesn't know what he's going to do afterward.

"I can't go out and get a job like I'm used to working," he said. "And getting a desk job, I don't have the education for that. I was one of the stupid ones. That's why I preach to [Tanner] to stay in school."

Neediest Cases Fund

Chattanooga's Neediest Cases Fund serves clients of the Partnership for Families, Children and Adults. The fund is administered by the Partnership to fulfill client needs that cannot be met through traditional funding sources. Donations are tax deductible as permitted by law. To donate, use the coupon on this page. You also can donate online 24/7 at

He tried to get set up at the Goodwill job training center, but they were booked until Christmas.

"I've got a 16-year-old, growing boy," Poe said. "Food don't last long around here. I know I need to do something soon to get some money coming into this place."

He and Tanner ate "pinto beans and cornbread for weeks and weeks." Poe said. "I don't ever want to see no pinto beans or cornbread no more."

Long-Term Recovery caseworker Tracey Haveman set him up with the Neediest Cases fund. With the $150, he filled his truck with gas and bought food.

"If y'all had not come through, I don't know what I would've done," he said. "We would've had to have begged for some food."

He and his son moved last Friday into their new double-wide mobile home that was built for them by different organizations. When the deeds and taxes are finalized, he said this will be the first house he owns.

Today, they'll be eating a turkey dinner, courtesy of the Collegedale Explorers Pathfinder Club, and Poe's brother plans to take Tanner out hunting for another deer sometime today.

"I've got to get some cards in the mail to thank all these people," Poe said.

"But we need a mailbox," his son reminded him.

about Andrew Pantazi...

Andrew Pantazi is an intern at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who says that when he was 7 he knew what he wanted to do for the rest of his life: play hockey for the Colorado Avalanche. Unfortunately, he says he wasn't any good at hockey, so he became a journalist instead. He writes about the lives we hide, like the man who suffered a stroke but smiled, or the football walk-on who endured 5 ...

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