The holiday season is a time marked by giving and good nature here in Chattanooga. Whether we give our time, money, or talents to help others, even the smallest kindness creates a ripple effect that uplifts our community. Here, we celebrate six locals who pour their hearts into our community year-round, and though some may fly under the radar, their charitable actions do not go unnoticed by the people whose
lives they have impacted.
Photo by Rich Smith
Food insecurity in our area is a huge problem as, unfortunately, many families experience hardships that limit their ability to provide the balanced, nutritional meals that children need to grow up happy and healthy. According to Feeding America, over 12,000 children in Hamilton County faced food insecurity in 2020. This is why Janice Robertson founded the Snack Pack Ministry in 2014 at her place of worship, East Brainerd Church of Christ. “I was made aware that there were students at a local high school who were leaving school on Friday and possibly going without food until they came back on Monday,” she recalls. “My heart ached, and I knew I had to do something.”
The Snack Pack Ministry is a group of volunteers who pack bags of food that students in need can take home with them. “Now, in our ninth year, we are up to 2,500 bags per week. I am the fundraiser and my right hand helper, Anita Kapperman, buys all the food!” Robertson shares. “None of the food is donated, and if we pack 10,000 bags, we need 100,000 individually-wrapped food items.”
Running this program, she says, has opened her eyes to what a kind and giving community we have in Chattanooga. “I’ve been surprised by the servant hearts of so many people who show up to help us,” she says. “I think my favorite thing has been watching our great community of people come together to support us in packing the Snack Packs. We have a multitude of different ages, different religious views, different ethnic backgrounds, and it is a joyful, fun-filled time when we pack.”
In addition to the sense of community she has gained, Robertson has also had memorable experiences with the students that Snack Pack Ministry has helped. “The children who receive the Snack Packs are identified by their teachers, a counselor, or the principal, so we usually don’t get to meet them personally,” she explains. “But I was invited to come to a kindergarten class at one of the schools that gets the Snack Packs, because they had written thank you notes and wanted to share them. I was in tears listening to them read their notes to us.”
Since the program started, it has grown to support students throughout Hamilton County and meet even more needs. “We also have helped some of the schools with clothing closets that offer sweatshirts, sweaters, socks, and underwear for some elementary schools,” Robertson elaborates. “We provide a Christmas gift for each child at Christmas, we have furnished school supplies, and we have helped individual families that might need some extra help.” Their ministry has also helped other churches establish similar programs, with the hope that one day all children in our community will have their needs met.
Photo by Rich Smith
After moving to Chattanooga for his retirement in 2009, Bill McDonald found that his life’s work was not yet over. With a successful career in business under his belt, he felt compelled to share his experience and wisdom as a mentor. “I believe my purpose in life is to try and improve the quality of life for others – one person at a time,” he shares. “God has given me certain skills, and I believe I am still alive to use those skills to benefit others. After all, I can only play so much golf each week.” As a mentor for two privately-funded programs within UTC’s Gary W. Rollins College of Business and at a prison in Georgia, McDonald aims to create positive change in the lives of his mentees.
McDonald first became involved with the Veteran’s Entrepreneurship Program (VEP) at UTC, a team effort which aims to help veterans take their business ideas to the next level. “Once the veterans complete a six-week online course, they are invited to boot camp on campus,” he explains. “I’m with them for the six 18-hour days leading up to the pitch contest and the graduation ceremony. I conduct a couple of workshops with Dr. Butler and teach a class on personal selling.” His relationship with these veterans doesn’t end there, however. “I am available for mentoring as long as they need me after returning home,” McDonald explains. “I still mentor one of the veterans from the very first class 10 years ago.”
Similarly, McDonald also shares his skillset through UTC’s Urban Vision Initiative (UVI), which helps entrepreneurs in adverse circumstances establish profitable businesses. “I know how much the VEP has benefited our veteran entrepreneurs, and I felt that my experience would easily transfer to the UVI,” he shares. “So far, I believe we are making a difference and will continue to help these entrepreneurs improve their businesses and hopefully build some legacies that will lead to generational wealth.”
McDonald also offers mentorship to those at Walker State Prison, where requests vary on a case-by-case basis. For example, one mentee requested guidance on how to move forward after his release. “He secured a welding job immediately upon release and has now bought a new home for himself and his wife,” he adds.
Rather than slowing down any time soon, McDonald hopes to continue making a difference in the community for years to come. “I have been a very fortunate person. Throughout my life, I had exposure to a few people who helped shape my thinking about business and about life. Chattanooga is a magnificent city with many people so willing to give of themselves while helping others. For as long as I have the health and the brain power, I will put forth my very best effort to be a part of this giving community.”
Photo by Emily Pérez Long
For Tia Taylor-Clark, one door closing allowed another to open. While in the process of closing her upscale thrift shop, she overheard a mother telling her daughter that they wouldn’t be able to afford a dress for her to go to prom. This gave Taylor-Clark an idea, and she stepped in and offered to donate one of the dresses in the shop to them, much to the mother’s surprise. “After finding the young lady a dress and other items to complete her outfit, the mom and daughter were truly grateful!” she recalls. Taylor-Clark, who had to miss her own prom for the same reason, began the Closet of Blessings to collect and donate formal attire so girls throughout the Greater Chattanooga Area won’t have to miss out on special events.
The Closet of Blessings is about more than just dresses; it’s about making sure that each girl who comes through the door feels beautiful and confident. “It’s more than just giving away a dress to a young lady who can’t afford it; it’s the whole experience of the fitting and the choosing of accessories and clutch bags that the girls have never experienced,” Taylor-Clark shares. “I enjoy allowing the mothers to sit back and not have to do any work for a change. In this case, mom doesn’t have to do anything but be a spectator, enjoy the experience with their daughter, and walk away knowing that they didn’t have to choose between paying a bill and paying for their daughter’s special night.”
Over the years, the Closet of Blessings has grown tremendously, and Taylor-Clark has dedicated an entire room in her house to create a comfortable space for girls to come and pick out their dresses and accessories. Even while battling stage 3 bladder cancer, she remained dedicated to the work that she does with the Closet of Blessings and ensuring that each girl gets the full treatment from her one-woman show. “I had a friend sow into my ministry and pay for the labor for my floor to be laid down. I’ve added a chandelier and a barn door to update the look,” she says.
These days, Taylor-Clark continues her mission of helping women of all ages gain access to opportunities and experiences they might have otherwise missed, from high school proms to military balls – even “senior proms” at nursing homes. “I’d like people to know that this is more than just a dress giveaway to me; it’s a ministry of love, growth, peace, understanding, and uplifting,” she explains. “It’s important for these ladies to know that they are worthy, that they are always enough, and that no matter what they may go through, there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Photo by Emily Pérez Long
For John Linderman, success and charity go hand in hand. Owning a successful furniture store has created the opportunity for him to give back to the community in many ways, from donating funds to providing furniture. “I am happy to be in a position to help. I’m grateful and blessed beyond words to be where I am today!” he shares. “I have always wanted to be successful and charitable, because I believe that the endgame to a purposeful life is giving to those in need.”
Linderman’s philanthropy has expanded over the years as the store has grown, allowing him to help the community in various ways. “Linderman’s Furniture and myself are involved in many Chattanooga-area charities. We started with McKamey Animal Center doing kennel sponsorships and monthly food donations. Now, we have expanded our charitable efforts to the Humane Educational Society and their adjoining thrift store. Linderman’s Furniture will often donate floor model furniture to be sold in order to further help animals in need,” he explains. “I also have longstanding relationships with the Chattanooga Rescue Mission, Chattanooga Area Food Bank, Salvation Army, Catoosa County Animal Shelter, and East Ridge Animal Shelter.”
In addition to the general need for funds, many organizations have a costly expense that Linderman is uniquely qualified to help with – obtaining furniture. In addition to his monetary donations, he has donated furnishings to local organizations as well as families. “I receive phone calls, emails, or texts from different sources when there is a need for furniture. Oftentimes someone will visit me at the furniture store with a need or a request,” he explains. “The type of furniture we donate depends on the need. We have a healthy resource at the moment, but the furniture can range from scratch-n-dent or floor models to new furniture or closeouts from our warehouse.”
“One important project we have recently been involved with is East Ridge Residence. Linderman’s Furniture donated over $10,000-worth of furniture to the senior living facility,” he recalls. This project was close to Linderman’s heart, and the experience was a particularly memorable one for him. “My grandmother was a resident for years, and they took very good care of her needs,” he shares. “Walking through the building after the project was over and seeing the excitement from the residents was very moving.”
By getting involved in these local charities, Linderman has experienced the power of community firsthand. “We all need to work together. A community that bands together can tackle any obstacle,” he says. “I want others to understand the importance of helping each other.” As his business continues to grow, Linderman says that his charity will also. “I hope to hit it really big one day so that I can give it all away,” he says.
Photo by Emily Pérez Long
Travis and Tonya Lytle
After the Woodmore school bus crash of 2016 prompted an outpouring of support here in Chattanooga, Travis, Tonya, and Travis Jr. Lytle were deeply moved. Realizing the importance of immediate financial aid after tragic events, they were inspired to offer that type of support to people facing everyday hardships as well. As a result, they combined Travis’ experience as a board member for the Community Foundation with Tonya’s experience as an ambassador for the BlueCross BlueShield Family Fund to establish The Lytle Foundation.
From utility bills to funeral expenses, payment due dates can be a significant stressor during the most difficult times. The Lytle Foundation is a nonprofit organization that grants funds to cover various expenses related to education, housing, transportation, bereavement, and medical needs. “We aim to be a helping hand in times of need,” Travis explains. “So many people are in tight positions financially, and just one unfortunate situation can be very detrimental.”
This foundation serves as an extension of the Lytles’ family values. “We live by the scripture, ‘To whom much is given, much is required.’ God blesses us to be a blessing to others,” Tonya shares. “We take pride and enjoy giving back to individuals within our community. We see them as our family.” The purpose of their work goes beyond meeting monetary needs, however, as the Lytles believe that emotional support can be just as crucial as financial assistance. The family strives to make members of the community feel valued, supported, and uplifted during hard times.
The goal of the Lytle Foundation is to help people whose needs exist outside the scope of other organizations in our area, providing additional cushions of support for unexpected hardships. For example, they once helped a young woman cover funeral expenses after losing her husband unexpectedly. “It’s hard enough dealing with the death of your spouse, but adding the burden of paying for burial expenses makes it even harder,” Tonya says. “We felt it was the least we could do.”
Sometimes, a helping hand can make all the difference in the world. For example, a grant from the Lytle Foundation allowed a woman pay her rent after she was laid off without warning, giving her some time to breathe and create a plan to move forward. Another grant helped a young man buy a car after being incarcerated for over 10 years. “This gave him transportation to his new job and the opportunity to get a fresh start in life,” says Travis.
For the Lytles, witnessing positive changes in the lives of people they’ve helped is the most rewarding thing about this work. Their hope for the future is that others will get involved and experience the joy of giving back to our community.