William Hall Rodgers, an editor with a heart

Posted 12/5/18

A people-minded Cleveland Daily Banner editor of the 1940s era, William Hall Rodgers is believed to have had something critics say today’s newspaper editors lack — a heart.Whether or not such is …

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William Hall Rodgers, an editor with a heart

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A people-minded Cleveland Daily Banner editor of the 1940s era, William Hall Rodgers is believed to have had something critics say today’s newspaper editors lack — a heart.

Whether or not such is true depends upon the individual perspective of those who still look upon community scribes as being the face, the voice and the moral conscience of a hometown.

Like Rodgers and the version of the Banner he managed, we believe little has changed. Seventy-something years after Rodgers’ good work to help those who hungered and others who lacked direction, we see little doubt that community journalism — and the work of hometown journalists — is just as relevant today.

Such belief is evidenced most by the ongoing goodwill of the William Hall Rodgers Christmas Basket Fund, a holiday initiative that helped to feed those who lived with little, or without.

Before the name change in 1942, the community support program operated as Cleveland Associated Charities, an outreach that Rodgers deeply supported … both, as an individual and as the editor of a newspaper that considered itself a proud part of the Bradley County community.

Little do we doubt that Rodgers’ greatest gift to the noble cause was his heart; and through his heart he guided a newspaper that looked beyond just the stories, pictures and headlines of the day. Truly, it sought ways to make a difference.

A courageous man stricken with polio, Rodgers’ eventual death did nothing to harm the Basket Fund. Indeed, it inspired others to take up the gentle cause to assure local families would have a Christmas meal on their tables.

In recent years, the number of families helped exceeded 1,100. Times have changed, thanks in part to the number of new Christmastime initiatives born from the moral convictions of local churches, civic clubs and individuals who want to play a part in the joy of Christmas giving.

For these reasons, and more, fundraising has become increasingly difficult, duplication of services has strained the energy levels of good-hearted volunteers who are called upon to do more, and program efficiencies have struggled. 

The beloved Empty Stocking Fund — coordinated by WCLE 104.1 FM — realized these realities. So, it evolved three years ago with the merger of three existing programs: the Cleveland Christmas Party for Children, Creating Christmas Memories and the earlier named Empty Stocking Fund which aided original causes of its own, and later the Christmas Party.

At their birth, all were splendid programs. They still were three years ago, but the merger made the trio an even more impactful force.

The Empty Stocking Fund’s principal cause continues to be bringing Christmas to local children in need. The fund does it discreetly and its methods assure that parents get full credit for the beautifully wrapped gifts under the family trees on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning.

As long as our community is blessed with children, there will be need. And when there are children living without, there are families facing the same … and when the shortage is food, it is all the more heartbreaking.

Hence, the importance of the Rodgers Basket Fund. While the Empty Stocking Fund’s heart beats for the children, the heart of the Basket Fund beats just as hard for the families.

Last year, the Rodgers initiative distributed 742 baskets of food to local families. This year, the number will dip to slightly more than 600.

Although the numbers are trickling, the need remains.

Through the Basket Fund, family recipients will receive a frozen turkey, dressing, canned green beans, canned corn, spaghetti noodles and sauce, bread, a sack of potatoes, peanut butter, grape jelly, crackers and a few sweets.

Basket distribution will occur Saturday, Dec. 15, at the Tri-State Warehouse on Urbane Road. Plus, some 100 of the baskets will be delivered to elderly or handicapped residents who are homebound, and have no means for travel. 

Blessed are the key groups that keep the Basket Fund alive: International Paper, Cooke’s Food Store, First Tennessee Bank, the Church at Grace Point, First Baptist Church, Tri-State Warehouse and United Way of the Ocoee Region.

Donations to the William Hall Rodgers Basket Fund can be mailed to First Tennessee Bank, P.O. Box 4880, Cleveland TN 37320-4880, or dropped off at First Tennessee Bank at 3870 Keith St. Donations may also be dropped off at Cooke’s Food Store, a long-time advocate dating back to one of its beloved employees — the late Conrad Day.

No donation is too small. For those who can give, we ask your help.

The Basket Fund won’t change lives, but it will change a day. And with every change comes a first step.

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