Around 20% of people in St. Louis live in poverty. It’s an important issue that has an impact on our entire community. Mission: St. Louis is dedicated to working with people to remove barriers to success and self sufficiency. One of its major programs is Affordable Christmas, which provides families with the opportunity to shop for donated toys and other items at a reduced price. For example, a brand new bike can be purchased for only $4. The initiative not only spreads holiday magic by ensuring no child goes without a gift, but it also gives parents the chance to purchase the presents themselves.

VP Saint Louis has partnered with Mission: St. Louis for several years. Through the VP Community Impact Foundation, members and their families, including the young women who walk in the annual VP Saint Louis Debutante Ball, work with the nonprofit on community projects, including Affordable Christmas. Volunteers help by gathering items, raising funds and donating their time to work at the store on the day of the event. “Mission: St. Louis does amazing work to support underserved families in St. Louis, and we’re always excited to lend them a helping hand,” VP Saint Louis member Dean Pollnow says.

In 2023, VP Saint Louis decided to organize something special for Mission: St. Louis. “In the past, we’ve donated money to purchase bicycles or provided unassembled ones in boxes to be sold at Affordable Christmas,” Pollnow notes. “We found that it can be tricky for families to put together the bikes on their own because assembly can be complicated. A bike in a box is a little bit like giving an electronic item without batteries or a charging cord—it’s not usable without something extra.”

To help address the issue, the VP Community Impact Foundation organized a bike build event for members and their families. The goal was to assemble 100 bicycles purchased from Big Shark Bicycle Company. “We were excited to find a local company to partner with for this initiative,” Pollnow explains. “Big Shark not only was able to provide us with 100 bikes by early November, but it sent staff members who were able to make sure that every bike was assembled correctly on the day of the build.”

On Nov. 11, members and their families gathered at the VP Saint Louis headquarters for the big day. Pollnow was among the around 75 volunteers. “We separated into six-member teams to assemble the bikes,” he notes. “That first one took most groups a couple hours, but by the second or third, we could put them together in about 30 minutes.” After the bicycles were assembled and Big Shark completed quality control, VP Saint Louis members made three separate deliveries to Mission: St. Louis. Along with the bikes, they also were able to provide the nonprofit with a $5,000 monetary donation to further support its efforts to uplift the community.

The VP Saint Louis bike build represents an important way for members and their families to make the holiday season a little brighter for others. Pollnow notes that while volunteer opportunities were previously limited to members and their daughters who walk in the ball, the organization is working to provide more ways for entire families to get involved. “It’s such an amazing chance to give back and do so as a family,” Pollnow notes. “The build day was a gratifying experience for everyone. There’s something special about assembling something with your own hands, and getting to see all 100 bikes completed was awesome and humbling.

Photos courtesy of VP Saint Louis