For many, why people give this time of year is rooted in religion. Consider the widely quoted New Testament scripture: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
The holiday season for most begins with Thanksgiving, a day to give thanks as well as think of those who are not as fortunate. It’s that time of year when people put the brakes on their busy lives to open hearts and wallets to help those in need.
“I believe that the more you give, the more you get,” said Philip Bertsch. “It seems to be working for me.”
For each of the past 12 years, Bertsch, general manager of Westport One in Maryland Heights, has donated $5,000 to $10,000 to the 100 Neediest Cases campaign, a holiday tradition in its 94th year.
The money is enough to adopt five or six cases each year, depending on family size and need. Bertsch lets United Way of Greater St. Louis, which runs the 100 Neediest campaign in partnership with the Post-Dispatch, select the cases.
The 100 Neediest Cases campaign, which begins this weekend, is designed to let the community help itself. For those who do not have time to adopt a family, a cash donation is welcome.
The Post-Dispatch features 100 cases each year, but thousands of families across the region have been identified by 60 member agencies of United Way as needing help and are part of the campaign.
Last year, all 100 cases the Post-Dispatch featured were adopted in addition to 860 others. All cases not adopted were given $75. This year, like the year before, the United Way trimmed the number of cases available for the campaign.
In 2015, 12,353 cases were part of the campaign. This year, it is 10,523. Annual giving has leveled off at about $1.4 million and the United Way would like to see the minimum given to nonadopted cases increase to $90, from $75.
The campaign has become a holiday fixture, the cases in the newspaper reminders that there are thousands of people in the region struggling who could use a boost.
Thousands heed that message each year, mobilizing to help.
Employees of Ironhorse Resources Inc. in O’Fallon, Ill. used to buy gifts for one another each Christmas. But as the small company grew, so did the price of giving.
Six or seven years ago, the employees of the transportation company decided they should instead use that money to help those in need. They adopted a family through the 100 Neediest Cases campaign.
“We ended up just having a fantastic experience,” said Jeff Baskett, executive vice president of Ironhorse, a 12-person company. “We’ve stuck with it. It’s become a regular thing every year that we get excited about.”
The company matches whatever the employees contribute. That typically results in $4,000 to $5,000 to spend on a family. The first year, Ironhorse employees selected a case submitted by the Illinois Center for Autism. They decided each year thereafter to continue selecting a family from the center, based in Fairview Heights. The partnership has become part of the giving tradition, Baskett said.
The company likes the program because it provides a specific way to help.
“With the cases, we learn something about the families and how they can be helped directly,” Baskett said. Over the years, that has included buying toys, puzzles, beds and even a used minivan.
“What we do at the Christmas season pales in comparison to what the folks who work there do,” he said.
For families with a child on the autism spectrum, financial challenges are common, said Rachel Newsome, communications director at Illinois Center for Autism. “Usually, only one parent can work because the other has to be home with the child. It’s hard to find day cares or workers capable or trained to come to the home. With medical and therapy costs, it stands to reason we have families who have a strong need for help.”
That, she said, is why programs like 100 Neediest Cases are so important.
“Families are just beside themselves when they get help this time of year,” Newsome said.
The Burns Recovered Support Group has an 18-year relationship with the 100 Neediest Cases. It began when the former executive director of the nonprofit was reading the Post-Dispatch and saw that one of the 100 Neediest Cases featured a 14-year-old girl who lived in a children’s home, with no family. She had been burned.
Now, United Way forwards all 100 Neediest cases with a family member who is a burn survivor to the nonprofit. Last year, it was 11. This year, there are seven cases.
About 15 people from the support group, a mix of employees, board members and volunteers, shop for and wrap the gifts requested by the families.
“The holiday season is such a rough time as it is for many families,” said office manager Emily Stichling. “After the trauma of a burn, it’s really great to help them at this time and give them some cheer.”
At Kirkwood Station Restaurant and Brewing Co., an annual benefit concert has served as a fundraiser for 100 Neediest for the past seven years, allowing thousands of dollars to be donated to the annual tradition of helping the region’s disadvantaged. This year’s event, featuring the classic rock band Dang and the country act Rough Ryders, begins at 6 p.m. on Dec. 10. The $10 cover goes to the 100 Neediest.
“It’s been very successful in the past. During the Christmas season, people don’t know or trust a way to give,” said restaurant general manager Carlos Wilson. “With this, they know where the money is going and the people they are giving to.”