Tenn. woman spends weeks helping people file for unemployment, giving encouragement


Tennesseans have now filed more than 440,000 unemployment claims in the last two months. That’s the most recent data released last week.

The state updates the numbers every Thursday. That figure is more than twice the number of people living in the city of Knoxville.

One East Tennessee woman knew she had to help since the process has been hard for those without a computer or internet, but the woman’s kindness in Cocke County isn’t going unnoticed.

When Cocke County commissioner Terry Dawson called Debbie Torrence last month, the former financial counselor had no idea what was in front of her.

“He said a lot of people are losing their jobs. Can you do anything to help them?” said Torrence.

People around her couldn’t file for unemployment. With the help of friend Penny Grooms, Torrence’s phone number started to reach those in need.

“I got on the internet, started signing people up. I drank one cup of coffee that day and took one break. I got off the internet at 11 that night,” said Torrence.

The response was shocking to her.

“I thought, ‘Oh my word, what a need.'”

Within three weeks, Torrence has helped more than 185 people in Tennessee, and even more beyond.

“From Tennessee to North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, Florida and Alabama,” she said.

And she’s doing it all for free.

“For anyone and everyone it doesn’t matter,” Torrence said. “I try to also give them words of encouragement with tears in my eyes to let them know this isn’t going to last forever, we will get through it together.”

Her small act of kindness has even inspired others.

“I guess I gave them a ray of hope verbally they wanted to help other people. So it became a domino effect. I would sit here and cry at how happy this has made me,” she said.

She understands the process is stressful for everyone and encourages people waiting to receive help to be patient.

“Keep the faith, keep praying and know we will all get through this together.”

Torrence had to file for unemployment too so she knows the struggle and frustration first hand. She said she’s still waiting to receive her money, like so many other Tennesseans.