As the little girl pulled item after item out of the backpack, each question was the same: Are these socks mine? Is this T-shirt mine? Is this toothbrush mine? The volunteer for Project Backpack, an organization that provides basic necessities to children removed from hostile residential environments, reassured her that the items were indeed hers. The little girl then asked, I don’t have to share the toothbrush with anyone?
As the volunteer shared the story with Mike Walsh, he found it difficult to comprehend. “It’s hard to imagine that someone could not even have something as simple as a toothbrush, and that it’s happening anywhere in this country, much less my backyard,” says Walsh, CEO of Eagle Bank and chairman of Old Newsboys Day.
More than 230 children’s charities like Project Backpack rely on Old Newsboys to fulfill critical everyday needs in the community. Since its inception in 1957 by former St. Louis Globe-Democrat publisher Duncan Bauman, the program has raised more than $11 million for those charities who are not supported by the United Way, federal, state or local government, Walsh explains. “Their services are tremendous—they are reaching the children who, to a great degree, fall through the cracks—and many of these organizations rely on grants from us for their entire budgets.”
While the Old Newboys’ fundraising efforts originated and are still synonymous with the thousands of volunteers who annually sell special editions of Suburban Journals on street corners the Thursday before Thanksgiving, the campaign goes far beyond that. Twenty-five percent of funds raised come from that day’s newspaper sales, with the rest stemming from sponsorships by local business owners and community leaders. “The name recognition of Old Newsboys is invaluable,” says Walsh, who is marking his third year as chair. “When I call on someone to ask for 30 or 35 minutes to talk about the mission of the organization and see if it matches their giving philosophy, it’s very, very rare to hear them say no.”
The 2012 campaign kicked off May 15 with a party at the Saint Louis Zoo, and a second event on July 24 at The Ritz- Carlton Wine Room will continue that momentum. These events, as well as other social and networking opportunities encourage participation with Old Newsboys. “They get the opportunity to engage with other sponsors and the charities, which provides a heartfelt feeling and understanding of what the organization does and how important our mission is,” Walsh notes.
That understanding is especially important to the success of the campaign, which aims to raise $750,000 this year by the time it culminates on Nov. 15. Walsh says that while most St. Louisans associate the effort with the street corner sales, not as many know about its reach and impact. “There are a lot of high-profile members of the community who have gotten involved, but we need to increase the awareness of the need and the mission.”
To that end, Old Newsboys will launch its first golf tournament on Oct. 18, with plans in the works for a walk/run in the fall, as well. The 100-percent volunteer organization also aims to expand its board in the future to help spread the word and reach into new markets, Walsh says.
Every year, children’s charities apply to be recipients of grants of up to $3,000 from Old Newsboys. The application must specifically indicate what the money will be used for, like the playground built last year at the University City Children’s Center. With requests outnumbering available funds last year, Walsh hopes the generosity of the community will allow the organization to fulfill more needs this year, from school uniforms to baby formula to clean clothes. “The demand is so great—just for everyday items we take for granted—but we can make a difference.”