By Jerri Stroud, BBB Editor
Few local charities have been involved in as many community service projects for as long as the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), St. Louis Section.
In the 120 years NCJW has been in St. Louis, several of its projects have become charities on their own, such as the Crown Center for Senior Living, Court-Appointed Special Advocates, Legal Advocates for Abused Women and the Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis. Some have been incorporated into other programs, such as the Victim Service Council.
The St. Louis Section began in 1895, just two years after the national organization formed. In 1919, it pioneered the Free Milk Program in St. Louis Public Schools, which the schools assumed responsibility for in the 1930s. In 1920, NCJW started the St. Louis Scholarship Committee to provide interest-free loans for post-secondary education. That project eventually became the Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis.
The common thread in all the projects is addressing the needs of families, children and women through community service and advocacy for individual and civil rights, said Ellen Alper, executive director of the 5,000- member and supporter organization. The basic principle is expressed in Hebrew as Tikkun Olam, “to repair the world.”
“As Jews, we have an obligation to give back to the community,” said Alper. She is quick to add that the organization is open to people of all faiths, and men as well as women have been involved with the nonprofit.
NCJW’s current active projects include:
- The Back-to-School! Store, which provides clothing, shoes and backpacks to 1,200 children served by 45 different agencies. Approximately 500 volunteers act as personal shoppers for the children while their parents visit a resource center that offers a variety of services.
- Kids Community Closets in 15 schools chosen because at least 80 percent of students live at or below the federal poverty level. NCJW stocks closets with socks, coats, underwear and other things a child needs to go to school. The program is designed to improve school attendance and relieve the pressure on teachers, who often dip into their own funds to help the children.
- OACAP, or Older Adult Community Action Program, which provides information, advocacy and education to seniors.
- Healing Hearts Bank, a micro-lending program for women in domestic violence or other risky circumstances.
- Project Renewal, a program that helps underserved women by providing clothing, education and resources to help them succeed at work and home.
- Wife-Widow-Woman, a program for widow of all faiths to help them grieve, then move forward as single women. Two six-month programs are offered now, and a third session will be added soon.
- Connect, a group for girls in fifth through eighth grades that includes community service, education about advocacy and developing leadership skills.
- Advocating for social justice and human rights issues in Jefferson City and Washington, D.C.
Most of the work is done by volunteers. NCJW has a small paid staff – five in the office and six in the store. It has an active volunteer board with many committees and subcommittees.
“We make it very easy for volunteers,” said Alper. For example, the charity offers baby-sitting during board meetings so mothers can participate, and it trains volunteers before they work at an event, in the store or in other programs.
NCJW raises all the funds for its programs through The Resale Shop, corporation and foundation donations, several special events as well as an annual fund campaign and campaigns linked to specific projects.
NCJW has been in the resale business for 75 years. For many years, the nonprofit held an annual two-week sale of designer clothes donated by its members. More than 50 years ago, it opened a resale store, which was in several locations before moving to its current building at 295 S. Lindbergh Boulevard. NCJW’s offices are in the other half of the building, and the basement serves as warehouse for items donated for the Back to School! Store.
The Resale Shop is “a way for people to recycle merchandise they no longer need, and a way for people to get great clothes at low prices,” Alper says. Each donor gets a receipt showing how to value their donations for tax purposes as well as a brochure showing how proceeds are used.
The shop is a member of NARTS: The National Association of Resale and Thrift shops, an organization that sets standards for nonprofit and for-profit resale shops. Alper says it’s important for shoppers and donors to know that the store is run professionally and ethically.
“We’re a values-based organization,” said Alper. “We work to improve the lives of women, families and children.”
Profiles of BBB Accredited Businesses and BBB Accredited Charities are created as part of BBB’s TORCH Award process and are not intended as an endorsement. To register for this year’s TORCH Awards luncheon on Nov. 13, go to http://www.bbb.org/stlouis/events.