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Economy & Business

Give STL Day Is More Essential Than Ever For Nonprofits Surviving Pandemic

Mobile distribution (1).jpg
Derek May
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St. Louis Area Food Bank
A volunteer for the St. Louis Area Food Bank carries fresh produce. Last year, the Food Bank relied on monetary donations when global supply chains caused food shortages. Donations from Give STL Day helped keep the Food Bank open to distribute meals.

When the pandemic first hit St. Louis in 2020, people stormed grocery stores ahead of an anticipated lockdown. Shelves emptied, and the St. Louis Area Food Bank, which normally relied on donations, was in trouble.

“A lot of those areas where we would normally receive food dried up, it just wasn't there,” said Meredith Knopp, president and CEO of the St. Louis Area Food Bank. “And so we really had to shift our model and figure out now how do we raise money to go purchase food.”

Knopp said that made Give STL Day, an annual philanthropic event that takes place each May, critical for the Food Bank to stay afloat. The online crowdfunding campaign organized by the St. Louis Community Foundation raises money for about 900 local nonprofits. Knopp said last year the event helped provide 337,000 meals for Food Bank recipients, making a huge impact.

“It really helped us during a time when we really didn't know what we were waiting to do, but it got us over that hump,” she said.

This year Give STL Day is May 6, and officials say it will be just as critical for many St. Louis-area nonprofits as last year, if not more so. The overall economy has taken a hit due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but nonprofits are faced with declining donations, shuttered event spaces and an increased need for the social services they provide.

Amelia Bond, president and CEO of the St. Louis Community Foundation, said getting nonprofits accustomed to online fundraising has been critical during the pandemic.

“We were able to pivot really quickly and make it a day acknowledging the additional needs that our nonprofits were being asked to give to our community because of COVID,” Bond said.

And people responded. In 2020, donations shot up by 50%, and Give STL Day raised more than $4 million. Bond said this year the sectors most impacted by the ongoing pandemic are religious, educational, social justice and arts and culture organizations.

Bond started Give STL Day back in 2014, after learning about similar philanthropic events in Pittsburgh and Columbus, Ohio.

“I thought what a cool way to bring nonprofits together,” she said.

At the time, online crowdfunding tactics were relatively new and few nonprofits in St. Louis even had a Facebook page. Over the years, Bond said Give STL Day has doubled the number of nonprofits involved and quadrupled the amount of funds raised.

The online fundraising event has become a lifeline for smaller nonprofits, like the St. Louis Black Authors of Children’s Literature. Founded in 2018, the literary nonprofit aims to increase literacy among Black children in the region’s public schools and provide educational resources such as free books and reading events for families.

“We're small. We don't have a full-staff, and we’re basically staffed by volunteers,” said Julius B. Anthony, president and founder of the organization.

Being a newer nonprofit, it can be difficult to find big donors and attract philanthropic organizations, he said. The process is time-consuming and requires extensive research.

“But what Give STL does is it brings the philanthropic community to us,” he said.

Anthony added that many donors learn about St. Louis Black Authors of Children’s Literature organization for the first time through the Give STL Day website, which can attract those interested in educational causes.

“That's what Give STL is all about, it's about finding places to support that align with your belief system and your ideas for community,” he said.

Every year, Give STL Day is backed by philanthropic organizations to increase funds, and some nonprofits can find foundation partners to match donation amounts. This year, the Berges Family Foundation of St. Louis is the event’s presenter.

Follow Megan on Twitter: @meganisonline

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