Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Community Spaces: Our 24W Parks

If there's one thing that living through a global pandemic will demonstrate, it's how much we as a community need our public spaces. Our parks are one of the most amazing things about living in Saint Louis, and right here in the 24th Ward, we have some hidden gems.

**Please practice social distancing in our parks and follow orders from the City of Saint Louis about use of public spaces during COVID-19**

Clifton Park
Simpson Avenue loops around the "bowl" portion of the park that was originally developed as a private park for residents of Clifton Heights, the park was conveyed to Saint Louis city in 1912.  Ten years later, the city bought the adjoining property, enlarging the park to the 4.4 acres we know now.

Throughout the year you can find events sponsored by the Clifton Heights Neighborhood Association including the annual "Party in the Park" and Easter Egg Hunt. We enjoy the park with our dogs along the walking paths that cross through the park letting them say 'hi' to the many ducks that reside in the pond.

Franz Park
Bordered by Mitchell Avenue, Glades Avenue, Prather Avenue, and Kraft Street - Franz Park is also utilized by Wilkinson Early Childhood Center. Highlights of Franz Park include Tennis courts, softball fields, a soccer field, and exercise challenge course. The 4.67 acres became known as Franz Park after Sophia D. Franz gave her acres to the city for a park and playground in honor of her husband Ehrhardt D. Franz in 1915.

The shelter house and picnic tables are a great place to meet neighbors at a safe social distance, or in my case: Notary work.

Francis Slay Park
Located in the Ellendale neighborhood and bordered by McCausland Avenue, Arsenal Street, and Canterbury Avenue you'll find Slay Park. Known as Ellendale Park up until 2009, this park was named after former Democratic politician, restaurateur, and father of the former mayor Francis G. Slay. This 9-acre park was placed into ordinance in 1926 and features shared trails, a tennis court, soccer field, and baseball fields along with a shared trail and playground.

Turtle Park
While technically a part of Forest Park, Turtle Park is an icon of the Clayton/Tamm neighborhood. Located across from Pat Connolly Tavern at the intersection of Oakland and Tamm Avenues, Turtle Playground contains seven concrete turtles and one snake. The turtles were designed and sculpted by Bob Cassilly and the park opened in August 1996.

You can also see works by Cassilly at the St. Louis Galleria, St. Louis Zoo, and the Missouri Botanical Garden and in other cities across the country such as Dallas and NYC.

Forrest Park
One of the greatest benefits of living in the 24th Ward is our proximity to Forrest Park. Our Hi-Pointe, Franz Park, and Clayton/Tamm neighborhoods are all a short distance from the 1,370 acres and all the amazing culture of Forrest Park. Dedicated in 1874 to coincide with the centenary of the U.S. Declaration of Independence it was also the site of the 1904 World's Fair.  

I could write a whole blog on the amazing features of Forrest Park, but my favorites aren't the sports courts, picnic areas, or playgrounds... you can find me in the Art Museum or on the trails.

Carolyn's campaign has started our community park clean-up events! We will visit these amazing parks leaving them a little cleaner than we found them. Follow us on Facebook or sign up to be on our email list to ensure you hear about these upcoming opportunities.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Your 24W Primary Ballot

Now that you've confirmed your voter registration, and figured out your plan to vote (in-person, absentee or mail-in) it's time to look at what's on your ballot.

You can look at the August 4th full combined ballot for Saint Louis City to see all the candidates/issues. In this Primary Election, you can choose from one of six ballot options, Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Green, Constitution, or Non-partisan (issues only, no candidate) ballot. 

If you're looking at that combined city ballot (above) remember that on your ballot August 4th you'll: 
1. Only see the ballot for the party you select 
2. Only see the District and Ward races for where you live

Not sure which Congressional District, House District, or Ward you live in? You can look up your Representatives on the STL city website by checking the box "contacts and elected officials."

In this blog, I will focus on the Democratic ballot in my home ward, the 24th in St. Louis City.
The sample ballot shown below is abbreviated and has the races outside our ward screened-back.

This Primary Election has many candidates from the big congressional races, to statewide Missouri races, and down to the hyper-local partisan Committeepersons races in your ward.

We'll look at your 24th Ward Democratic ballot the way it will appear for you on August 4th, 2020:

Statewide Missouri Offices


Nicole Galloway - CPA and our current Missouri State Auditor, Galloway is the presumptive Democratic nominee. Galloway is currently the only statewide elected Democrat. Nicole has received the endorsement of Emily's List. The 24th Ward Progressive Democrats endorsed her as well.

Jimmy Matthews - You may know him from his unsuccessful bids for President of the Board of Alderman (2015 & 2019) and for Mayor (2017)

Antoin Johnson - n/a

Eric Morrison - Running on "I Got Five on It" Platform: Education, Equity, Equality, Ethics, Environment

Robin Van Quaethem - n/a

Galloway defeated Saundra McDowell (R) in 2018 to keep her post as Missouri State Auditor. McDowell is challenging current Governor, Mike Parson in the Republican Primary.

Lieutenant Governor

Gregory Upchurch  - From the St. Charles area, Small business owner.

Alissia Canady  - Former KC District 5 City Council Member, ran an unsuccessful bid for KC Mayor in 2019. She has received the endorsement of Emily's List. The 24th Ward Progressive Democrats endorsed her as well.

They will go on to face our current LG is Mike Kehoe (R) or one of the several other Republican challengers should he lose his Primary.

Secretary of State

Yinka Faleti - West Point Graduate, Army Veteran, Attorney, Former Executive Director Forward Through Ferguson. Yinka is running unopposed in the Primary and will challenge incumbent Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft (R) in November. Endorsed by the 24th Ward Progressive Democrats.

Missouri State Treasurer

Vicki Englund - Former State Rep. and Lindbergh School Board member, Englund is running unopposed in the primary and will face current Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick (R) in November. She has received the endorsement of Emily's List. The 24th Ward Progressive Democrats endorsed her as well.

Attorney General

Rich Finneran - Former federal prosecutor and an Assistant U.S. Attorney in St. Louis.

Elad Gross - Former Assistant Attorney General, you might have heard about his Fight Against Dark Money or the Eladpod where he interviews many other candidates and discusses current issues. The 24th Ward Progressive Democrats endorsed him.

Either Finneran or Gross will go on to challenge incumbent Eric Schmitt (R) who was appointed by Gov. Parson in November 2018 following Josh Hawley's election to the US Senate.

Congressional District 1

Lacy Clay - The incumbent serving since 2001, holding this seat by a District-wide vote of 56.7% to 36.9% over Bush in 2018.

Cori Bush - Grassroots activist and nurse who challenged Clay in 2018 and was featured in the documentary "Knock Down the House" alongside AOC, Amy Vilela (NV), and Paula Jean Swearengin (WV). Endorsed by the 24th Ward Progressive Democrats.

Katherine Bruckner - n/a

Bush won the 24th Ward in 2018 with 63.15% of the vote to Clay's 30.10% and that was with two other challengers (DeMarco Davidson & Joshua Shipp) in the race. This rematch will be one watch. Winner of this primary will face one of two Republican candidates in November.

Missouri House District Reps

State Rep District 83
(including parts of Clifton Heights, Ellendale, Franz Park neighborhoods)

Tyler Merkle - Local Attorney who has the endorsement of many labor unions as well as city and county leadership including 24W Committeeman Matt Sisul and 24W Alderman, Bret Narayan. The 24th Ward Progressive Democrats endorsed him as well.

Jo Doll - Elected to the Webster Groves School Board (2017) and a Licensed Physical Therapist, her platform heavy on Healthcare, Education, and Gun Safety. Doll has the endorsement of Gina Mitten.

HD83 is currently represented by Gina Mitten, who is term-limited. Either Merkle or Doll will go on to face Andrew Bolin (Libertarian) in November.

State Rep District 84
(including parts of Highpointe, Clayton-Tamm, and Cheltenham neighborhoods)

Wiley (Chip) Price IV – Current HD84 Representative who is running unopposed in the primary. 24th Ward Progressive Democrats endorsed.

STL City Races

Circuit Attorney

Kimberly M. Gardner - Serving as the St. Louis Circuit Attorney since 2017, Gardner is the first African-American to head the CAO. Gardner has a long, public history with the SLMPD and filed a civil rights lawsuit against them in January 2020. She was also a key player in the Former Gov. Eric Greitens investigation. The 24th Ward Progressive Democrats have endorsed Gardner.

Mary Pat Carl - Also serving as 16th Ward Committeewoman, Carl is challenging incumbent Gardner. She has been a lead homicide attorney and a prosecutor for 15 years in the Saint Louis area.

This is one of the more spirited races in STL city, as you can tell by this recent interaction between the candidates on a video conference. Either Gardner or Carl will face Daniel Zdrodowski (R) in November.


Vernon Betts -
Our current Sheriff, Betts is also running for 5th Ward Committeeman against Rasheen Aldridge.

Alfred Montgomery - Former Deputy Sheriff, Montgomery is looking to address some of the issues he says he's seen from within the department.  The 24th Ward Progressive Democrats have endorsed Montgomery.

David (Da) Mosley - Running on the platform: "Enough is Enough" and also running to be the 2nd Ward Committeeman against incumbent Larry Middlebrook.

The winner of the Democratic Primary will go on to face one of two Republican Sheriff candidates in November.


Tishaura O. Jones - Current STL City Treasurer and former Missouri House of Representatives Assistant Minority Floor Leader, Jones has launched the "Office of Financial Empowerment" (OFE) to help STL make better financial choices, and the College Kids Program to help public school students start educational savings accounts. Jones has been endorsed by the 24th Ward Progressive Democrats.

Jeffery L. Boyd - Current Alderman representing the 22nd Ward, Boyd is critical of Jones' OFE and has pledged to return the parking fund to the city administration should he be successful in his challenge.

Either Jones or Boyd will go on to face Robert Vroman (R) in November.

Ward-level Races

As elected representatives for the political party, this election that appears on the Primary ballot is THE election for committeepersons.
Committeeman Ward 24

Matt Sisul - Longtime President of the Ellendale Neighborhood Association, and our current Committeeman since he was appointed in October of 2019. Sisul is running unopposed in this race with the endorsement of the 24th Ward Progressive Democrats.

Committeewoman Ward 24

Carolyn McMahon - Author of this blog and Past-President of the 24th Ward Progressive Democrats, McMahon is running to improve communication and transparency between Central Committee and local Ward organizations with a pledge to help anyone who wants to be involved find a way to connect. Carolyn has the endorsement of current 24W Alderman, Bret Narayan, and the 24th Ward Progressive Democrats.

Teri Powers - Incumbent Committeewoman who was first appointed in 2010. Powers has a challenger for the first time this election after running unopposed in 2012 and 2016. 


Medicaid Expansion Initiative -  Constitutional Amendment 2
A YES vote on Amendment 2 will expand Medicaid in Missouri and bring more than a billion federal tax dollars back to our state and provide healthcare to 200,000 Missourians. A yes vote on Amendment 2 will make Missouri the 38th state (including DC) to have expanded Medicaid. You can also learn more at Missouri Healthcare for All. The 24th Ward Progressive Democrats have endorsed this initiative.

If you still have questions about registering to vote or how to request a mail-in or absentee ballot, check out my other blogs on those topics!

Remember to get out there and VOTE on August 4th!

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Absentee Voting Options 2020 - STL City, MO

With some of the new absentee and mail-in options for voting in 2020, it might seem confusing to figure out what is best for you. 
Fortunately, the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition has put together this chart to help us figure it out. 

We'll look at your absentee/mail-in voting options in 4 easy steps:
1. What kind of ballot do I qualify for?
2. Where can I get that ballot request form?
4. What is the deadline to apply to vote absentee/mail-in?
3. Once I vote, will I need a Notary for my ballot? How do I find one?

1. What kind of ballot do I qualify for? 
For COVID-related excuses, you will qualify for under one of these options:
• Absentee Ballot under reason #2 or #7 (with qualifying condition)
• Mail-in Ballot (for any voter who doesn't qualify under #2 or #7 but prefers to vote absentee by mail)

Note: If you qualify to vote absentee under #2 or #7 you can also choose to vote absentee in person at the Board of Election office, 300 N. Tucker Boulevard, St. Louis, MO 63101 until 5pm the day before the election. You can fill out your absentee request form and vote at the same time (providing the absentee voting is open for that election). Mail-in ballots can ONLY be returned by mail.

Combined Absentee/Mail-in Ballot Request Form (6.16.20)

2. Where can I get my ballot?
Both Absentee and Mail-in ballots can be requested in-person or by returning this combined Absentee and Mail-in Ballot Request Form to the Saint Louis Board of Election Commissioners, 300 N. Tucker Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63101. 

You can also submit the PDF form via email to stlcityabsentee@stlouis-mo.gov

NOTE: For the Primary you must mark which ballot you want. (Republican, Democrat, Constitution, Green, Libertarian, or Non-partisan - issues only) If this is your first time voting after a new voter registration by mail, you may also need to send a copy of your ID, see details on the form.

Now, if you're looking at an absentee ballot, it might be a good time to consider if getting on the Permanently Disabled Absentee Voter List makes sense for you. You can download the form to apply for the Permanently Disabled Voter List at this link. Once on this list, you will be delivered an absentee ballot application for every election you are eligible to vote in.

3. What is the deadline to apply for an absentee/mail-in ballot?
• August 4, 2020, Primary Election --> July 22, 2020 
• November 3, 2020, General Election  --> October 21, 2020

NOTE: Your application must be received by the Board of Election on that date to have your ballot sent to you. You can still vote absentee in-person up to 5pm the day before the election for any of the 7 approved absentee excuses. Mail-in ballots MUST be returned by mail.

4. When I vote, do I need to sign my ballot envelope in the presence of a Notary Public?
• If you vote absentee under excuse #2 or #7, your ballot DOES NOT require a Notary to return.
• If you're on the Permanently Disabled Absentee Voter list, your ballot DOES NOT require a Notary to return.
• All Mail-in ballots DO REQUIRE a notary to sign your ballot envelope to be counted.
• Any other absentee excuses (#1, 3, 4, 5, 6) DO REQUIRE a notary in most cases.

Where can I find a Notary Public?
• The Missouri Voter Protection Coalition and the ACLU are organizing a notary hub to make it easy to connect to a local notary. 
• Notaries by law can't charge for notary services on a ballot but some notaries may charge a travel/mileage fee as that is separate from the Notary fee itself. 
• You can search for a Notary on the Secretary of State website
• Check with your local bank, most have Notaries who will provide services to customers
• The MO Secretary of State has created an Online directory of Volunteer Notaries
DEADLINE TO RETURN BALLOTS: Ballots must be received by the Board of Election by 7pm on Election Day.

If you're a Notary and want to help voters, you can join the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition Notary Coordination Hub

**There is a pending case with the ACLU (among others) with the Missouri Supreme Court to waive this notary requirement, we should have the ruling soon, but you should prepare to find a notary in the event that they are unsuccessful. You can listen to the oral arguments here.**

This blog is meant to be a top-level look at absentee voting in St. Louis city. The Saint Louis Board of Election Commissioners has more detail on all the absentee and mail-in voting options for 2020 on their website. The MO Secretary of State website has additional information including their summaries of the types of ballots as well. 

Also, please follow the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition on Facebook or sign up for text alerts: Text MOVPC to 66866.

No matter how you vote, be sure to make your voice heard this and every Election Day. 

Monday, June 8, 2020

Register MO Voters

Before we start talking about absentee voting in Missouri, we need to make sure EVERYONE who is eligible to vote is REGISTERED to VOTE! 

Check Your Own Voter Registration. Seriously, even if you vote in every election. It's like the safety procedures on an airplane, first, check your own registration before you help others. Check your registration here.

2020 MO Voter Registration Deadlines:
For August 4, 2020, Primary Election --> Deadline is July 8, 2020
For November 3, 2020, General Election --> Deadline is October 7, 2020

Who Can Register?
Missouri voters must be United States citizens & Missouri Residents aged 18 or older.

When Should You Register?
• When you turn 18 (or at age 17.5 if you will turn 18 by Election Day)
• When you attain eligibility by becoming a US citizen or regain eligibility by getting "off paper" from a felony conviction
• When you move to Missouri from another state
• When you move between counties/election jurisdictions within Missouri (Example: If you move from St. Louis City to St. Louis County, you are no longer registered to vote and must re-register)
• Voters must register at least 4 weeks prior to the election date in order to be eligible to vote in that election (see deadlines above). There are limited exceptions for people who move after the voter registration deadline; those people should contact their local election authority or 1-866-OUR-VOTE (a non-partisan voter help hotline)

Keep Your Registration Current!
You should always be registered to vote at the address where you currently live, so make sure you submit address changes to the election authority (or re-register if necessary) every time you move.

Information provided by the St. Louis Metro Area League of Women Voters and the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition. I suggest following both of these organizations and The St. Louis Area Voter Protection Coalition for up-to-date voter information. 


1. Register voters on your own
Anyone can register voters providing you are at least 18 years old and a registered voter in Missouri BUT, you need to fill out the Registration Form for Voter Registration Solicitors and file with the Missouri Secretary of State. You are required to submit this every election cycle, which basically means every two years after the General Elections. 

Ask those around you if they're registered and have checked their registration. Friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers. Get into the habit of asking those you contact throughout your day if they're registered to vote, and if they're not, let them know how they can do so. And remember, Missouri is an open primary state so you do not register with a particular party when you register to vote.

2. Register voters with one of these organizations
Show Me Votes (Missouri Democratic Party)
You can search by county, house district, state senate district or congressional district to "adopt" voters who are not registered to vote. Just $2/voter will help fund the MO Democratic Party outreach to those likely voters and help them get registered. Fundraising through ActBlue makes it easy to support.

Rock the Vote
As the coronavirus pandemic disrupts the course of the 2020 election, Rock The Vote is spear-heading a summer-long initiative aimed at registering 200,000 new voters. The effort, "Democracy Summer" will include a series of trainings, campaigns, and events to register, organize and mobilize young voters. You can read more from CNN about this initiative.

Vote Save America
Created by Cooked Media, this site has a bunch of great resources to get involved with voter registration. I'm a big fan of the Adopt a Battleground State campaign that's focused on key states needed to win in November.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Joining the Fight Against Racism

From right here in St. Louis to what we're seeing in Minneapolis, it's clear that racism is a problem. I think that many of us feel outraged but aren't sure where to start to be good allies and to help make our communities more equitable for all. 

As with so many complex issues, there are many ways to provide support both during times of unrest and every day. 

Photo credit: Richard Reilly

Community Support

Reclaim the Block - Community-Lead Safety Solutions in Minneapolis.

OBS - Organization for Black Struggle, STL - A group of veteran activists, students, union organizers and community members in St. Louis were seeking to address the needs and issues of the Black working-class. There are a number of great community resources on their website as well.

(Real Local Control and Effective Civilian Review) A grassroots movement fighting to ensure that local control of St. Louis police are based on the principles of citizen input and transparency.

Action St. Louis - A grassroots racial justice organization that seeks to build political power for Black communities in the St. Louis region. Action St. Louis builds campaigns that leverage organizing, communications, advocacy and direct action to mitigate harm against our community while fighting for long term transformation. Campaigns include Close the Workhouse, #WokeVoterSTL, Political Action, #WeCount314.

Jamaa Birth Village - A non-profit Midwifery, Doula & Maternal Health organization located in Ferguson, Missouri, and serving the greater St. Louis metro area.

The Sweet And - Mutual Aid Fund in St. Louis - Support the Sweet & Queer Solidarity Fund.

For the Culture STL - Directory of Black-owned businesses in Saint Louis you should support and community events.

Northstar Health Collective (Minneapolis, MN) - Mutual aid directory and resources for activists including support for street medics.

Potbangerz  (STL) - Fight injustice by uplifting the community, meeting nutritional needs, helping our unhoused families navigate their way to permanent housing, and advocating for them when they need it the most.

Black Visions Collective (MN) - Since 2017, Black Visions Collective, has been putting into practice the lessons learned from organizations before us in order to shape a political home for Black people across Minnesota.

Jail and Activist Support

Minnesota Freedom Fund - Bail support for Minneapolis.

Cleanup GoFundMe - Grassroots GoFundMe to assist with cleanup in Minneapolis.

Saint Louis Jail and Legal Support - Volunteer attorneys, legal workers, and community members committed to protecting the rights of people arrested when protesting for social justice in St. Louis.

National Lawyers Guild, STL - Has been working, through the courts and in the streets, to defend the rights of public assembly and public protest. You may know them by the green Legal Observer caps around actions.

STL Street Medics - publishing great resources for safety and medical aid while at protests.

Bail Funds & Legal Help by City - full list of jail support for cities across the U.S.

Supplies and Masks (MN) - Paypal donation link for Racial Justice Network.

Arch City Defenders (STL) - Legal support in Saint Louis.

Bail Funds - Nationwide - You can donate through ActBlue and have your donation split among 40 separate community bail funds throughout the country.

Anti-Racist Resources

Anti-Racist Organizing Collective - STL, Providing a joint analysis with organizers of color in the Justice Institute and our Accountability Team which can result in a set of shared beliefs in guiding our anti-racist organizing work. Many great resources and recommended readings on their site.

Anti-Racism Resources
- Document compiled by Sarah Sophie Flicker, Alyssa Klein in May 2020 – This is a great resource of recommended reading, blogs, movies, and organizations to follow. 

26 Ways to Be in the Struggle Beyond the Streets - Video resource for other ways to get involved.

5 ways to support Black Americans if you can't protest in person - Great list of other ways to get involved if protesting isn't a good fit for you. 

Media/Voices to Amplify in STL

St. Louis American - the leading, most-trusted voice of the area’s African-American community in Saint Louis.

Real STL News - We are an online news media outlet that concentrates on Saint Louis City and its surrounding areas. Real STL News is a team of community advocates that passionately bring awareness to the community of what is happening around Saint Louis.

Expect US - This page is for us organizers to connect with others and build bridges and connect with people in STL.

Teaching Children About Racism and Equality

Eye See Me - Our mission is to be a resource to parents, teachers, and schools in providing the very best children’s books on the market that promote positive images and stories about African American culture and history.

Your Kids Aren't too Young to Talk about Race -  Great list of resources for parents about how to educate children about race.

We Stories We Stories is a catalyst for change - in conversations, awareness, and choices: In Kids, Parents and Families; Communities, schools, institutions, and ultimately, in St. Louis.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Critical Thinking in a Fake News World

While technology might make it easier for someone to create content and put it out there as legit, it also provides us with great tools to verify and fact-check before we share something.

In this blog, I'll post a few of my go-to places to verify the news, and knowing this might be old hat to some of you, I'll take it once step further and share ideas on how to sharpen your critical reading skills and watch out for bad science. 

1. A great reference for spotting fake news is this chart from OnTheMedia.org:
You can download it here

2. Reverse image search using TinEye (referenced above) or Google Image Search to see where else the image has appeared, and see if it's been altered in any way across different sources.

3. Compare news stories by using a Google search using quotes for an exact search match. Example: "trump" "hydroxychloroquine" will bring up news stories with those specific words. Then you can look at stories from a variety of news outlets and see how they compare. Which brings me to my next point...

4. Understand the Media Bias of a publication.  I love this chart from Ad Fontes Media which is available to download or if you really want to dig into it, you can use their interactive chart to customize the chart reporting:

5. Do a little cross-searching. Who posted the original content? Are they who they say they are? If they're in the public eye, do they have a verified badge on Twitter or Instagram? 

6. Look for classic propaganda techniques and sharpen your critical reading skills. Thanks to my big sis Michele McMahon Nobel, Ph.D. for the insight on teaching these important skills to people of all ages.

7. Learn to spot these RED FLAGS for unreliable news. Here is an informative graphic from Vanessa Otero the founder of Ad Fontes Media and that creator of that media chart listed above.

8. Watch out for video fakes. From the Washington Post, check out "The Fact Checker's Guide to Manipulated Video" for a deep dive into what to watch for with deceptive video.

9. Learn how to spot bad science with this guide from CompoundChem. Downloadable PDF is available here

10. Personally fact-check. My two favorite sites for this are Snopes and Politifact. Both are pretty quick to make updates and get news stories fact-checked very quickly. Both these also make a good follow on social media. Often I'll see a post from them disputing a story before I see it appear naturally in my newsfeed.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Helping our Unhoused Community

In 2016, I saw a Facebook post about a local homeless outreach that was scheduled to take place just a couple blocks from my office in Downtown Saint Louis. Having worked in the area for a few years, I knew there was a significant homeless community that needed help, so I showed up.

It was overwhelming with just myself and one other volunteer that day, but we saw very clearly how big the need was to help our unhoused neighbors, so we went to work on building a network of volunteers and donors so we could help more people. (Special shoutout to the Ethical Society Mid Rivers and St. Louis for being great partners).

Over the last 4 years, working with Atheist Alliance Helping the Homeless St. Louis (AAHHSTL) I've heard from thousands of clients. I've heard their personal stories, their needs, their struggles. These insights have shaped the way we've structured our giveaways, and what we provide. It's amazing what you'll learn when you listen to people. A good lesson in this endeavor and for so many others.

Want to help? Here are a few things I've learned:

• Most people just want to be seen and acknowledged. This is especially true in communities like the unhoused where they often feel invisible.

• If you're going to offer food, make it easy and portable. Look for pull-top cans or self-contained items (bananas and clementines are great). Don't assume someone can easily wash up if it's messy to eat or find a utensil if they need one. Also, look for soft foods that will be easy to eat even with dental challenges.

• If you're going to offer mouthwash, go with a non-alcoholic variety. You never know who may be in recovery.

• Not comfortable giving out money? Keeping a few city bus passes on hand is a great alternative.

• Non-food items are also appreciated. Notepad/pencil, paperback books, and AA batteries are all very popular items that are hard to find with many outreach groups.

• Bottled water is great, but a new reusable water bottle is more helpful.

• Keep seasonality in mind. What would you need out in the elements? Sunscreen or bug spray in the summer, then hand warmers, lip balm, or gloves in the winter.

• Be kind! Showing a little compassion may be more meaningful than any "thing" you could provide.

AAHHStl is a secular humanitarian group, and as such, we don't proselytize or require clients to hear a message before receiving supplies. It's very simple: we have the ability to organize and provide supplies you might need, and we do it because it's the right thing to do – no strings attached.

Today, AAHHSTL has grown to over 40 volunteers who help an average of 50-60 people a month at our supply giveaways. We now are recognized as one of 14 chapters nationwide of Atheist Alliance Helping the Homeless - a committee under the Atheist Alliance of America (AAoA).

AAoA is an incubator for secular activists and community organizations. They also work to normalize atheism, unify atheist organizations and provide humanitarian aid. AAoA is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization started in 1992, making it one of the oldest atheist organizations in the United States.

Want to help us give back to the unhoused community in Saint Louis? 

• Watch for our next scheduled giveaway under events at AAHHStl
• Learn more about this local chapter on AAoA
• Donate gently used items (send DM via Facebook) or visit our wishlist
• Follow & amplify our message on social media: Facebook & Twitter 

If AAHHSTL isn't a great fit for you, consider one of these other grassroots organizations in the St. Louis area: 
STL Winter Outreach and Tent Mission STL (Both are operating right now due to COVID-19)

Carolyn is a volunteer and one of the chapter organizers for AAHHStl. This does not imply endorsement of AAoA.