Tennessee Community Prevents Elderly Woman's Eviction

PHOTO: Mary Cate Jones
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Mary Cate Jones has spent the past few weeks packing up her life's memories. It was a little more than a month ago that she learned she was facing eviction from the home in Strawberry Plains, Tenn., that she and her late husband built in 1956.

But after her plight was featured in the local paper last month, donations began pouring in. And now, thanks to more than 500 people and a $15,000 check from an anonymous donor she received Tuesday, Jones and her family will be able to keep their home.

"It's just remarkable how things fell into place. You just can't believe it," Jones told ABC News.

The generosity of so many, strangers and neighbors alike, makes her tear up.

"They were just so good. They helped me so much," she said, her voice breaking.

Jones, 78, had never had a mortgage on the house until 2007 when she took out a $60,000 loan to help pay for major home repairs. She fell behind on payments when she says her mortgage was sold a number of times and she wasn't clear on where she was supposed to be sending payments.

"Lord, have mercy, I didn't know what was going on," she said.

According to Jones, it was a notice in the paper that the deed to her home had been sold when she first learned about it. She made calls to the local courthouse and enlisted the help of her daughter, Carol, to try to get to the bottom of it. Jones says they discovered the house was in foreclosure and that eviction proceedings were being planned. And that it would cost $72,000 to save her home.

"We knew nothing about it," she said, "we were absolutely flabbergasted."

Jones shares her home with her son, who is wheelchair-bound from childhood polio, and two teenage grandchildren. She says they didn't know what to do next and started calling around asking for help from anyone they could think of, including the local paper, the Knoxville News Sentinel.

It was the article in the paper that caught the eye of Rev. William Shiell, pastor of First Baptist Church of Knoxville, where the family attends church.

Shiell says until he read that article, he had no idea the family was facing eviction. But realizing how deep the need was, he knew he had to do something.

"She's there packing her china, without this story she's out of her home," said Shiell.

The church decided to use its nonprofit group, Heart of Knoxville, to help the family. A fund was set up for the family and the information was shared by the local news media. Over the next several weeks, Shiell says more than 500 individuals sent in donations totaling nearly $57,000. The anonymous donor stepped forward to make up the difference of $15,000.

"This is what the church ought to be doing," said Shiell. "This is one of our missions."

Shiell says he hopes it inspires others to get involved locally in their community.

As for Jones, she's grateful to all those who helped her, and she's looking forward to unpacking and settling back into her home.

"Just overwhelmed, that somebody that didn't know me could help that much," she said. "It's unbelievable."

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