By Rebecca Renshaw
Life, at least for now, has changed dramatically across the United States as we face the coronavirus pandemic along with the rest of the world.
The shelves at our grocery stores often stand empty. Our favorite restaurants and entertainment venues are either closed or operating in much different ways than before. Our arenas are quiet and the crowds are gone. Around our interstates and neighborhoods, we’re spotting signs and messages that remind us of really just how different life feels now.
But, in St. Louis, if you are paying attention, there’s also a lot of love and hope being extended. From teddy bears in windows and messages of hope written in chalk on sidewalks, although we’re apart, we’re finding ways to remain deeply connected.
Beth Boggs, ‘91 SIU School of Law alumna, and a partner of Boggs, Avellino, Lach & Boggs, has committed to such love and hope by making sure students in North County School District in St. Louis receive free lunches and facemasks each week.
Boggs says she has sponsored and helped a food pantry in St. Louis, Ritenour Co-Care, for several years. One of her colleagues, Angela Gabel, serves on the pantry’s board of directors. Boggs and Gabel had a meeting in early March where they determined they had to do something for the pantry as it began to face higher demands for food. From that day forward, they have seen an incredible coming together in the community.
Through her connections in St. Louis business and civic affairs, Boggs encouraged others to join their efforts. Wallis Oil Company agreed to put their commissary employees to work making lunches. Wallis also agreed to transport donated meals to area drop-offs each week. Boggs soon got The Orchards Golf Course kitchen staff to make lunches. The owners of JJ Twigs Pizza were able to bring back some of their employees to pitch in and make lunches for students.
“Besides all of those volunteers, we also now have a minor league team who pitches in and helps make meals,” said Boggs.
She says what is remarkable is that through these efforts, some small businesses are now able to pay their staff and put them to work.
“Through a charity that my husband, Darin (SIU School of Law ’90) and I formed in 2005 called Step It Up, we give these businesses the food to make the meals and the wages to pay their staff,” she said.
Boggs was also impressed by the generosity of her fellow alumni from SIU Carbondale. “Each spring, we host a charity golf tournament to raise funds for SIU. While several of my participants and sponsors had already paid their entry fees, not one of them asked for a return of their money when the tournament had to be cancelled. When they heard of our efforts, they collectively donated the $13,500 in fees to the University Scholarship fund. That’s the Saluki spirit that makes SIU so strong,” she said.
While the North County School District does provide one free lunch drop-off a week, many of the students can’t find the transportation to get to the drop-off point.
“The problem with the school district free lunch program is that they only drop off lunches in an area where the students would be forced to take public transportation to get to the food,” said Boggs. With the help of the school libraries, Epworth Charities and the NAACP, they now are delivering 10,000 meals to multiple locations across the county five days a week.
Boggs says she and her behind-the-scenes volunteers are not doing this for publicity. “It’s simply the right thing to do. If we can give this food with no hardship to us, then it would be wrong to ignore this major need in our city right now,” said Boggs.
Boggs said they also give out 10,000 face masks to the students and their families along with their meals.
“Of all the positive COVID-19 cases in St. Louis, 70 percent are in these hard-hit communities of color. I am so thankful for the help of NAACP’s St. Louis County president, John Bowman. While we have the resources of money and food, Mr. Bowman has the connections to get to the people who need help the most,” said Boggs.
Boggs is amazed at the touching outpouring of humanity she has witnessed during the last month.
“I recently had to go to Chicago to visit my brother who is battling leukemia. His young daughter is quarantined due to his illness and said she wished she could help. I told her that she is wonderful at baking bread, so maybe she could make a loaf and send it to the food pantry. A week later, she shipped us 25 loaves of bread. She is a shining example of spreading love and hope with whatever resources are available,” Boggs said.
Boggs and the group of volunteers will continue to give 10,000 meals and face masks each week to students through the end of May. While Boggs was reluctant to draw attention to herself, she does so only to encourage others, especially Salukis, to get involved and give back to others during this time.
“I absolutely loved my years at SIU and I found the grit and determination of the students there remarkable. I am sharing my story only in hopes that others who call themselves Salukis will join me and extend love and hope to others as well,” she said.
Many former Salukis have donated funds and time to help.