Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

The Giving Season the 100 Neediest Cases Touches Those Who Hang onto Hope

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

The Giving Season the 100 Neediest Cases Touches Those Who Hang onto Hope

Article excerpt

THIS IS a time of year when the metropolitan area looks inward for ways to lend a hand. A time of introspection and reassessment, when we more fully understand the separation between those who have been blessed with much and those of our neighbors for whom the challenge is steep, the hazards unmistakable.

It's immediately after Thanksgiving that Grace Collins, co-chairwoman with Jeanette Wamser of the 100 NEEDIEST CASES, feels most strongly a sense of purpose. The glow of watching people willingly reach out to help the troubled lasts well past Christmas for Collins, who says that often it is "the little things" that she finds most moving.

"Like a pair of eyeglasses for someone," she said.

Wamser has an idea why people respond to the 100 Neediest drive as they do. "It's part of the American way," she said. "It's a pride: `Hey, I can help you.' Or, `Don't think anything about it, we've been in situations like that ourselves.'

"It's an altruistic attitude from all walks of life. I'm amazed that people survive in the impoverished conditions they're caught up in. For some, it seems they're in quicksand. Our goal is to brighten their holiday with a Christmas gift."

Collins and Wamser, in their fourth and final year as officials of the annual campaign, sponsored by the Post-Dispatch and the United Way of Greater St. Louis, can attest to increasing needs by many who cling to hope but have known despair for too long.

The streets are meaner. Gang violence, drug use and abusive relationships within families continue to grow. Stress and hunger are on the rise. Poverty is waiting to victimize someone else. HIV, hepatitis A and a new, resistant strain of tuberculosis are lurking. The number of homeless who feel stripped of their dignity is on the increase.

When will it end?

"Sometimes it's overwhelming for all of us," said Collins, speaking for the volunteers at the 100 Neediest office who read the accounts of lives in disarray in case forms. Some 1,500 are screened for publication, of which 100 representative cases are selected for stories that appear in the Post-Dispatch. The first stories were printed in 1950. This year, 119 agencies will participate in the drive.

Far more than 100 families and individuals benefit. The number last year was 12,563. Beth Schlueter, vice president of United Way for planning and evaluation, says, "The 100 are illustrative of the good being done beyond the cases we read about. It provides the community a great way to care about itself. It's people helping people."

Last year, Post-Dispatch readers contributed $1,246,534 in cash as well as thousands of dollars more in clothing, furniture, appliances, food and gifts in kind to families and individuals in St. Louis and five Missouri counties (Jefferson, Franklin, Pike, St. Charles, St. Louis) as well as four Illinois counties (Madison, St. Clair, Clinton, Randolph).

Every penny donated goes to the needy chosen by caseworkers. Campaign director Betty Sievert said none of the money is used for administration costs. She pointed out that gifts are widespread in variety and often are other than money in an effort to shelter recipients from the full brunt of their difficulties.

For example:

Payment of a family's basic telephone bill for a year.

A corporation adopts a family and makes it the beneficiary of proceeds from the company's Christmas party in lieu of a gift exchange among employees.

A family elects to forgo its own gift exchange and instead gives to a needy family it has adopted. Sometimes an adopted family is a recipient of help for several years.

The payoff for Sievert and others is "the letters we get from families thanking us for what we've done."

Wamser is taken by the "daily courage of the caseworkers. They're forced to set their own emotions aside."

Each of the more than 12,000 recipients may get up to $150 cash, depending on how much the campaign collects in money and gifts in kind. …

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