It’s 3:00 AM on a Friday morning.

You wake up to the screeching sound, but it’s not your alarm clock that is set to go off in a few hours. It’s your fire alarm. You quickly realize your home is on fire. You do your best to get your family out of the house, just to stand outside and see the house engulfed in flames. As you wait for the firefighters to arrive and watch them work, you get the feeling that you’ve lost everything…at 3:00 in the morning. You got out safe, but a slight panic sets in because you have work in a few hours, the kids have school, and you have nothing but the clothes on your back with nowhere to sleep tomorrow night…

We all think to ourselves that this wouldn’t happen to us. It’s just stuff that happens elsewhere, but not to us. And if it does, we’ve got insurance (who may or may not be able to help us out at 3:00 AM). Let’s be honest, though. This does happen. It’s unplanned. It’s unannounced. And it happens in our community. Friday, September 27th, a family in Gray, TN was in this exact scenario. Unfortunately, this isn’t uncommon. This was just 1 of 60+ fires that the American Red Cross of Northeast TN responded to in 2021.

So, what happens when the Red Cross gets a call at 3:00 AM regarding a house fire? They show up. Sometimes even before the fire trucks can get to the house. They show up with immediate access to food, shelter, medicine, clothing, and emotional/mental health support. But they don’t just show up at the scene. They stick around. The volunteers work with families for 30-45 days after their disaster to continue connecting them with availably community resources. They get other organizations involved when necessary, like Second Harvest Food Bank, local housing authorities, Upper East TN Human Development Agency (UETHDA), The Salvation Army, Good Samaritan Ministries, etc.

American Red Cross of Northeast TN shows up when they’re needed, and they stick around to help families through unexpected disasters. At United Way of East TN Highlands, we’re happy to help fund the Disaster Cycle Services program, because we know just how important it is to those who need it.


Click here to see all of our 2022-23 grant recipients 


About United Way of East TN Highlands
Serving Washington, Carter, Johnson and Southern Sullivan Counties, our goal is to break the cycle of poverty by uniting people and resources to strengthen the health, education and financial stability of every person in our community. Our vision is to be a community united to empower every person and organization to reach their full potential and achieve more. For more information about United Way of East TN Highlands, please visit


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