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St. Louisans Enter The New Year With Modest Stimulus, Big Needs And Eagerness To Help

In the midst of great need, Ed Bryant of the United Way of Greater St. Louis is optimistic about the future and about how he sees the regional community working together to help.
United Way of Greater St. Louis
In the midst of great need, Ed Bryant of the United Way of Greater St. Louis is optimistic about the future and about how he sees the regional community working together to help.

The year 2020 changed our world in a multitude of ways — and fueled escalating levels of need in our communities. That the United Way of Greater St. Louis experienced its highest number of 211 calls ever is just one indicator of how many people are struggling.

At the same time, the types of need haven’t shifted much from previous years. Ed Bryant, United Way’s vice president of stakeholder engagement, explained on Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air that many people in the St. Louis region are in need of the basics: food, housing and utilities.

That’s where that $600 of federal stimulus money, will go — quickly — for many local residents. Others may be able to save it. If you ask Bryant, either destination is a good one.

But there are other possible uses, too, for those who are doing OK and want to help others. Bryant has a few suggestions.

“Support small and local businesses, especially women- and minority-owned businesses throughout our region,” Bryant said. “They’re struggling to keep the doors open. … And then also support the causes and nonprofits that are meeting the top and most critical needs.”

Bryant suggested a place to get started, saying, “And if you want to find out what those critical needs are, you can contact us, and we can provide suggestions to you of the agencies that we are aware of that are meeting those needs of food and shelter as well as just those basic needs around utility assistance, those kinds of things.”

Listeners also shared ideas for putting stimulus checks to good use, offering up their own experiences and suggestions.

“Two of my closest friends both lost a week’s pay to COVID-19,” Brad wrote on the St. Louis on the Air Facebook page. “They're mostly fine now, but they need the money way more than I do. I'm giving it to them.”

Cecelia said she plans on “spending it with a local small business to increase the energy efficiency of our home.”

Another listener wrote in to say he “bought belated Christmas gifts for friends and relatives, [and] saved most of the rest.”

Bryant, who was a volunteer with United Way for 15 years before becoming a full-time employee in 2017, also touched on what’s fueling his optimism about the St. Louis region in this new year. That includes stories of generosity like the ones listeners shared during the segment.

“We live in St. Louis, and we consider ourselves one of the most generous communities in the country,” he said. “And [it’s great] to hear that people who probably didn’t necessarily need the $600 or the $1,200 that we got earlier last year, because they didn’t necessarily have any income interruptions, are using those dollars as well to donate and to give those things back to people that they really feel need them.”

Bryant is also hopeful about the region’s resilience and collective ability to “pull together” to improve conditions in the months and years ahead.

“Even before the pandemic, our region has gone through some significant dislocations going back to 2014 and 2015 with the social uprisings in Ferguson and whatnot,” he said. “And I think each year, each iteration, we learn and lean into these issues from a variety of different standpoints.

“For the last couple years we’ve really been learning and building muscle around diversity, equity and inclusion and understand how those issues impact our region as well. … And what we’re kind of also seeing is we’re realizing that for us to get where we want to be, we have to change some things.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Evie was a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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