Cover Stories

Volunteer Power: Assistance League of St. Louis

For more than 30 years, the Assistance League of St. Louis has been serving the unique needs of our community. The nonprofit is operated entirely by volunteers and is one of the largest chapters of the 120 that comprise the national Assistance League organization. “St. Louis is a city where volunteerism and philanthropy are at the forefront, and I feel like our work is a great example of that,” president Dawn Thomas says.

The organization’s mission is possible thanks to the dedication of its almost 500 local volunteers. Known as members, they collectively donated more than 65,000 hours of their personal time in 2019. When COVID-19 hit this spring, the Assistance League knew its services would be more important than ever. To ensure the safety of both its members and the population it serves, the nonprofit had to get creative. “One thing that makes us unique is how hands-on we usually are,” Thomas notes. “It was difficult not to be in the community interacting with people, but we found ways to work around that.”

Partnering with the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, the Assistance League was able to provide more than 4,000 books to young readers at a food distribution event. The nonprofit also pivoted its school uniform programs to meet health and safety guidelines. Each year, the uniform initiative provides clothing like pants, shirts, socks, underwear and fleeces. Instead of bringing students to its headquarters for fittings, it delivered forms to schools with instructions for how parents can measure their children. “School may look different this year, but wherever they’re learning, kids will always need clothes,” Thomas says. Schools also received vouchers to distribute to families for new athletic shoes.

Students aren’t the only group benefiting from the nonprofit’s work. It has been helping women in domestic abuse shelters by donating overnight kits with personal care items and masks. It also works with the YWCA to provide clothing for sexual assault victims who visit hospital emergency rooms and must surrender their own clothing as evidence. These programs only scratch the surface of what the Assistance League provides. “We’ve been serving St. Louis for decades, and we’re very flexible and responsive to how community needs change,” Thomas says. “This is evidenced by how we’ve altered delivery models and worked with other organizations to stay engaged.”

To make its important services possible, the Assistance League operates an upscale resale shop in Creve Coeur called Fantastic Finds. The store is open year round and offers a curated selection of gently used clothing, home goods, books and furniture. “The shop is beautiful and completely run by volunteers,” Thomas says.

The nonprofit’s other largest fundraiser is its annual Imagine! gala. Due to the pandemic, the gala will be held virtually Nov. 7. Thomas says the event will include an exciting program, and KSDK anchor Rene Knott will even lead a ring-the-bell initiative where people can donate directly to the organization. The evening is themed “A Gift of Love,” a fitting concept considering the unprecedented circumstances of 2020. “We feel the theme is a special reflection of the challenges of this unusual year,” Thomas explains. “We need kindness toward all people more than ever right now, and the Assistance League has been serving the needs of St. Louis, which is an act of love.”

Completely run by volunteers, the Assistance League of St. Louis puts caring and commitment into action through community-based, philanthropic programs. Its Imagine! “A Gift of Love” gala will be held virtually Nov. 7.  For more information, call 636.227.6200 or visit alstl.org.

Cover design by Julie Streiler
Cover photo courtesy of Assistance League of St. Louis

Pictured at top: President Dawn Thomas
Cover photo courtesy of Assistance League of St. Louis

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