It started simply enough. A lousy weather forecast was threatening to rain all over the 2014 Fountain City Christmas Parade. Nan Dickinson and her close-knit group of friends decided to skip out on their planned participation.
So, the Fountain City Candy Cane Queens, as they call themselves, “went for brunch instead of going down Broadway on a float,” Dickinson said. “This is just a group of close friends, and the Queens and the parade and other stuff is just something we do for ourselves, for fun, laughs and total silliness.”
But on that December day, another thought came to Dickinson.
“I wanted to do something for someone else, I needed something meaningful, a service project, giving back in some way,” she said. “Honestly, life hasn’t been that rough. The kids were growing up and leaving home. So, I was looking for some other way to contribute.”
And, thus, with good friends over brunch, Other Than Ourselves (OTO) was born. OTO isn’t a 501(c)(3). There isn’t a webpage, and there isn’t a place to join up. Everything happens by word of mouth and Facebook shares. It’s simply good friends getting together to do good things with Dickinson at the helm. Think of it as the community outreach arm of the Candy Cane Queens.
“This is my baby,” she said, noting that the initial group of 8 has grown to about 20 who coordinate on the monthly service projects that began in January of 2015. Sometimes it’s Bingo night at assisted living facilities or shuttling the trap/neuter/release feral cats from station to station at UT Veterinary Hospital.
The group’s most recent project for January was collecting hats, scarves and gloves (along with some coats) to distribute near the Mission District. They tied items to trees and fence posts with tags bearing the message “I’m not lost. If you’re cold and need me, please take me. God bless!”
Dickinson credited fellow Candy Cane Queen Pennie Owen with that particular idea.
“We wanted to do it in a way that we were getting things directly to people in need,” she said, adding that they went back out the day after distribution to be sure nothing was left still waiting to be claimed. There wasn’t.
For the first several years of OTO, Dickinson always had each month’s activity planned out at the beginning of the year. As with most, 2020 threw a ringer into all of her best laid plans.
“Covid has messed with a lot of things, but we just adjusted,” Dickinson said. For February, she and her friends are putting together individual Valentine candy gifts for residents of three nursing homes.
Dickinson, 62, moved to Knoxville with her family just in time to enter what was then Bearden Junior High School. She graduated from Bearden High in 1977 and went on to graduate from UT in 1981 with degrees in education and special education. She retired from Knox County Schools’ intervention department after 35 years in 2016.
While Dickinson’s 89-year-old mother still lives in the West Hills house the family moved to nearly 50 years ago, she and her husband, Paul, live on historic Gibbs Drive in Fountain City. Though retired from KCS, she still works part-time for Caring Senior Move, which helps the elderly downsize their homes ahead of moves into smaller homes, assisted living, etc.
Suffice it to say, Dickinson likes to stay busy. Also, she and the rest of the Candy Cane Queens would like a Fountain City Christmas Parade, again. Without the rain.
Beth Kinnane is community editor for KnoxTNToday.com