Cover Stories

Service-Driven: Assistance League of St. Louis

Since its inception in 1987, the Assistance League of St. Louis has been dedicated to serving the needs of our community through unique philanthropic programs. The nonprofit is operated entirely by volunteers and is one of the largest of 120 chapters that comprise the national Assistance League organization. Its mission is possible thanks to the dedication of almost 500 local members, who logged more than 56,000 hours last fiscal year. “We want to do more for the community,” Yolanda Perez-Cunningham, chapter president, says. “We have an amazing membership that never stops thinking of new ways to better serve vulnerable populations in St. Louis.”

The Assistance League’s list of services is extensive, from providing toiletries and other necessities to women in domestic abuse shelters to fitting students with new athletic shoes. When COVID-19 hit last spring, the nonprofit knew its programs would be more important than ever. To ensure the safety of both its members and the population it serves, the organization had to get creative. “With families under so much pressure, we knew there would be a greater need, and there still is today,” Perez-Cunningham says. “In 2020, our outreach program received more than three times the number of requests for beds and other basic necessities. We knew we had to figure out how to continue offering all we usually do.”

One example of how the nonprofit pivoted is its school uniform program, Operation School Bell. Each year, the initiative provides clothing like pants, shirts, socks, underwear and fleeces to students in need. In normal circumstances, the Assistance League brings students to its headquarters for fittings. Last year, the organization delivered forms to schools with instructions for how parents can measure their children and then the uniforms were delivered to them safely. Schools also received vouchers to give to families for new athletic shoes. “We’ll be following the same guidelines this year,” Perez-Cunningham notes. “We’ve already started receiving requests from schools, so we’ll begin filling those and continue throughout the year.”

The nonprofit also grew its Books from Friends program, which provides age-appropriate books to students in pre-K through high school. Last year, the initiative was able to provide kids with more than 15,000 books. Assistance League partnered with the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis at food drives and also held character parades at Head Start locations. “It’s so important to get books in the hands of children,” Perez-Cunningham says. The organization also worked with Barnes & Noble to create a special edition of Allie All Along to share with families. Written and illustrated by Sarah Lynne Reul, the book helps kids learn how to process and cope with strong emotions.

To make its important services possible, the Assistance League operates an upscale resale shop in Creve Coeur called Fantastic Finds. One of the nonprofit’s other largest fundraisers is its annual Imagine! gala. This year’s event will be Nov. 6 at Doubletree by Hilton-Chesterfield and is themed Night of Inspiration. “We hope to inspire guests by sharing the wonderful things we are doing in the community,” Perez-Cunningham notes. “It will be great to be with everyone and enjoy the evening while helping support children and families in need. Doing something for others and showing local students that someone cares fills our hearts with so much joy.”

Completely run by volunteers, the Assistance League of St. Louis puts caring and commitment into action through community-based, philanthropic programs. Its Imagine! Night of Inspiration gala is Nov. 6 at Doubletree by Hilton-Chesterfield. Pictured on the cover: Gala emcee Rene Knott and Assistance League president Yolanda Perez-Cunningham. For more information, call 636.227.6200 or visit alstl.org.

Cover design by Julie Streiler
Cover photo by Colin Miller of Strauss Peyton Photography

Pictured at top: Assistance League member Sue Long works with students at a character parade.
Photo courtesy of Assistance League of St. Louis

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