Wildfire survivors forever grateful for Dolly Parton’s My People Fund

PIGEON FORGE (WATE) – For six months, many families in Sevier County have been getting help from the My People Fund, set up to help those who survived the November wildfires.

Last week Dolly Parton surprised families in Sevier County with extra money from My People Fund donations. Families were given $5,000 for their last check, instead of the usual $1,000.

Previous story: Dolly Parton on My People Fund, what’s next for foundation

While so many families are thankful for this kind of generosity, one woman says she can’t thank Parton enough and hopes her message of gratitude makes it back to her.

The Veritos have a new address with new pictures but Darlene Verito says their house in Pigeon Forge just doesn’t feel like home.

“I want to be in Gatlinburg. That’s where my heart is. It doesn’t feel like a community, it feels like a family,” she said.

Her family has faced more bad days than good days in the last six months. They lost both their home and small business.

“You know you don’t have a paycheck coming in and you don’t know how you’re going to rebuild because you don’t have enough money to cover the rebuilding. So when the Dolly fund came out, it was the biggest relief I’ve ever felt in my life,” said Verito.

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They’ve been able to secure a home, rebuild their business, and not have to worry about making rent all thanks to the $1,000 given each month by the My People Fund.

“Thank you will never be enough for what I have to say to that woman,” said Verito.

She says the last check of $5,000 came at a time when the family needed it most.

“I was expecting it to just be $1,000 and it’s $5,000. I was blown away, blown away because that keeps me from going into debt,” she said.

Months later many believe the My People Fund was more than just a financial blessing, but one of hope.

“She has given me faith, something that I lost that night,” added Verito.

Parton also announced the Dollywood Foundation would be giving the remaining $3 million in the My People Fund to the Mountain Tough organization. That group says it’s too soon to know specifics for using the money, but each survivor will be assigned a case worker. From there the money will go wherever the needs are. It could be anything from a new refrigerator to counseling.

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