100 Neediest Brings in Record Donations Despite Pandemic
ST. LOUIS — Kamisha Brown was getting up at 5 a.m. every day to navigate the complicated logistics of getting herself and her two young sons to school.
She and the boys, ages 1 and 3, would take a bus to their head start programs, and then she would catch another bus to her own school. Brown attends the Grabber School of Hair Design, studying nail technology with hopes of getting a job to support her family.
They would reverse the process to get home, 12 or 13 hours later, supplemented with taxis or Lyfts when the weather was bad. That was until a donor to the 100 Neediest Cases campaign spotted Brown’s plight last year. The campaign is an annual holiday effort by the United Way of Greater St. Louis in partnership with the Post-Dispatch to help area families.
Brown got a call before Christmas from her caseworkers at the Urban League, with the news that her family had been “adopted,” and the donors were giving her a car. “I call her my miracle baby,” Brown says of the white 2011 Toyota Camry that she said is “perfect, like good as new.”
The timing was perfect, too, as Brown’s mother’s car was having trouble and the whole family was about to be “back on the bus.” Brown lives with her mother and her two younger brothers in south St. Louis.
The donors of the car were the owners and employees of Beck Flavors, a Maryland Heights company that makes flavors for food and beverage products. Employees there sign up to donate. One person might bring in baby clothes. Another may supply a Schnucks gift card. Jennifer Troutman, director of accounting and IT for Beck, said the company then matches, or “rounds out” donations.
This year, they spotted the story in the Post-Dispatch about Brown’s family. “It hit our hearts that this person was just trying to do better,” Troutman said, adding “We had a great year as a company, but we recognize that not everybody had the same year we had.” Troutman said the owners decided to “turn that goodwill around and put it back into the community.”
Paul Tripi, one of the owners, had a connection at a local car dealer and asked them to find a reliable used car. Troutman said the motto of owners Tripi, Charley Beck and Matt Carr is, “We don’t flourish if the community doesn’t flourish.” “We can all use a pick-me-up this year,” she said.
Brown’s car was part of a record-breaking year for the 100 Neediest campaign, which raised $1.7 million despite the pandemic. More than 6,500 donors helped nearly 9,500 area residents, including 5,000 children. Twenty-seven volunteers gave hundreds of hours to the campaign, the United Way said.
Although the Post-Dispatch highlights 100 cases each November and December, many more families are helped. In 2020, 52 social service agencies, schools and other member groups across the 16-county region submitted 3,800 cases in the program’s 98th year. A total of 936 families were adopted. Even cases that are not adopted still get a check from the United Way.
In the 2019 campaign, 889 cases were adopted, and the campaign raised $1.3 million. The coronavirus pandemic affected the 2020 campaign by reducing the total number of cases submitted. School districts, social service agencies and others were limited because they lost staff or faced hurdles due to the difficulty in having face-to-face meetings with families and filling out the necessary paperwork.
But Erin Smith, vice president of communications at the United way, said the campaign saw “quite a significant increase in adoptions,” as well as an increase in the value of donations. United Way officials aren’t sure how the campaign managed to hit a record amid the pandemic-related job losses and other economic effects.
“We’re still wrapping our arms around that question, too,” said Becky White, direct services program manager. The United Way saw a lot of new donors, she said, perhaps “because of their awareness of what’s going on.” Smith said it was another example of the St. Louis area “answering the call,” perhaps by those who thought, “I have a job and my family is OK, and I want to help someone else.” For many, she said, participation is a tradition.
Although gifts tail off in February, matching gifts often are still coming in through March and April, White said information about participants in the 100 Neediest Cases campaign are normally confidential, but Kamisha Brown agreed to the use of her name for this story.
Written by Robert Patrick. Robert Patrick is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.