The 100 Neediest Cases program has been a tradition in the St. Louis area for nearly 100 years, but it’s safe to say the program has never seen a year like 2020.
Even in a year where so many holiday traditions will look different because of COVID-19, thousands of local people and companies once again came together to support the community through the program.
“The St. Louis region has a tradition of giving and generosity, and that’s what we’re seeing this year,” said Becky White, direct services program manager. “The program is needed in 2020 more than ever. This year hasn’t been easy for any of us, but our region is able to answer the call to help those in need.”
Here’s how our community has come together through 100 Neediest Cases this holiday season.
Each year, it takes around 30 volunteers working more than 1,800 hours to keep 100 Neediest Cases running. They maintain the database of submitted cases, coordinate donations, match cases with people who want to help and work with local nonprofits to communicate clients’ needs.
In previous years, volunteers usually work in United Way’s office in person in shifts. Many of the volunteers have been involved for decades, using the same processes year after year to make sure the program runs as efficiently as possible.
This year, that all had to change. To keep volunteers safe, the program has transitioned to online work, with each volunteer pitching in whenever they can.
“That was a huge change. For the first time in the program’s history, volunteers are working virtually,” White said. “We had to quickly make documents digital and start working from home and embracing new technologies. Everyone has met the challenge and been flexible, helping out where they can.”
It’s created a new sense of camaraderie with the volunteers, adds Peggy Cordes, one of the volunteer team leaders who has served with 100 Neediest Cases for 19 years.
“As virtual volunteers, we miss seeing each other in the office, but it’s given us the ability to not only connect with those who volunteer on the same day we do, but also with the rest of the team, as we jump in virtually to help whenever someone needs support,” Cordes said.
Companies find new ways to give back
For the many local companies that support 100 Neediest Cases, this year’s challenges and changes haven’t stopped them from giving back.
Schnuck Markets has supported 100 Neediest Cases for 10 years. Even though they knew the festivities would need to be different this year, there was no question they wanted to continue the tradition.
This year, Schnucks adopted 19 families, with teammates from the stores and corporate office purchasing gifts like toys and household items and collecting donations to help with larger items. To keep everyone safe, instead of fundraising events and wrapping parties, teammates did curbside drop-offs to collect gifts before delivering them to the agency that helps their adopted families.
“It’s different this year, but we understand the need is great, and we certainly want to give,” said Adrian Moore, director of category planning. “It’s a total teammate effort. Schnucks is a family business, and as teammates, we consider ourselves to be a part of that family. When there are people in need, you come together as a family to help out, and we want to help where we can.”
This is Bayer Crop Science IT’s Talent and Experience team’s second year supporting 100 Neediest Cases, and this year, they knew they had to take their program completely virtual.
The team created Amazon Wishlists for each of the families they adopted and asked coworkers to use Venmo and Cash App to make monetary donations. They also created spreadsheets to track donations and gifts, and they kept everyone updated via their workplace chat channels.
“We know that we have a lot to be thankful for and that it’s important to give to others. We never want turn down the opportunity to help give back, especially during uncertain times,” said Mica Tharp and Alyssa Gibson, two teammates who are acting as “Santa’s helpers” this year. “You never know when you might be on the receiving end of uncertainty, which 2020 has shown so many of us.”
Coming together in new ways
With in-person gatherings on hold, local people have had to find creative ways to raise money and collect gifts for their adopted families.
Each year, Shruti Desai usually gathers with friends for a secret Santa party, but this year, they came up with a new tradition.
“Given COVID-19 and us understanding our privilege in more profound ways, we decided to have our dollars match our values,” Desai said. “We pulled together what we would normally spend on secret Santa and donated it to an individual through 100 Neediest Cases. We hope this is a start to an annual event we do to make a small impact.”
Neighbors in the Seasons at Schoettler subdivision in Chesterfield are taking the opportunity during the pandemic to give back as well. They raised more than $4,900 for 100 Neediest Cases so far, as well as purchasing gift cards, clothes, household goods and more for their adopted family.
“We’ve come together more as a subdivision during the pandemic to do charitable acts,” said Kelli Unnerstall, one of the subdivision trustees. “That’s one of the good things that’s come from the pandemic that I hope will stay with us – we can pull our resources together to have a bigger impact.”
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