Dec. 18, The Knoxville News Sentinel on Dolly Parton’s telethon to support Tennessee wildfire victims:
Dolly Parton demonstrated once again last week how much she loves the people of Sevier County, the rugged mountain community where she grew up. Her telethon, “Smoky Mountains Rise: A Benefit for the My People Fund,” has raised nearly $9 million and counting for those who lost their homes in last month’s wildfires.
The My People Fund, started by Parton, The Dollywood Foundation and Sevier County businesses, has pledged to give $1,000 a month for six months to each family who lost their primary residence in the blaze, which killed 14 people and scorched 17,000 acres in the tourist community. More than 1,300 families are known to have lost their homes.
Sevier County’s most famous native swiftly went into action, putting the show together in a matter of days. The telethon aired last Tuesday on a host of networks, including GAC, AXS-TV and RFD-TV, and featured more than 20 live and pre-taped performances from stars ranging from Cyndi Lauper and Don McLean to Parton, Kenny Rogers, Chris Young, Chris Stapleton and Reba McEntire.
Celebrities opened their wallets, too. Dierks Bentley and Paul Simon each called in and pledged $100,000, and Young was on hand with members of the Country Music Association to present a $250,000 joint check from Kenny Chesney and the trade organization.
“I am overwhelmed by the generosity of the people who have donated from all over the country and to my friends who donated their time, their talent, and money for My People,” Parton said in a statement. “The response has been so overwhelming that we haven’t been able to count all of the donations yet; right now, in total, we have raised about $9 million for the folks who lost everything in Sevier County.”
The telethon has been broadcast multiple times, so the final tally will be higher.
The proceeds will help families whose lives have been devastated by the wildfires. Donations of clothing, food and other items can only go so far, and it will take months for the displaced to return to some semblance of normalcy.
Many of those who lost their homes work or own businesses in Gatlinburg. The town lost many businesses, but the core of the commercial district escaped destruction.
While the tourism mecca has reopened to the public, it has not drawn the crowds that typically come for the Christmas season. The city had to cancel its popular Fantasy of Lights Christmas Parade, and merchants and visitors alike have noted the falloff in business.
Dolly’s voice is incomparable, and few can sing like Reba or Kenny. Not many East Tennesseans have the means to write a six-figure check. However, those who want to help can make the trek to Gatlinburg for a day or two of Christmas shopping. By patronizing the shops, restaurants and hotels in Sevier County, people can give tangible support to the area’s residents and workers.
Dolly is singing the lead, but the rest of us can sing backup. The resulting harmony can help the recovery of a community that has lost so much.