When Hurricane Sandy ravaged the East Coast this fall, the Veiled Prophet (VP) Organization was ready to step up in any way it could. Joining forces with another agency, the VP quickly gathered a group of members to assist in filling several trucks with much-needed cleaning supplies, food and clothing destined for the damaged areas. “One of the Veiled Prophet’s strengths always has been the ability to pull together and manage large groups of volunteers to help those who have a specific need,” explains VP spokesman Tom Cooke.

That strength has been a central component of the VP Organization since its inception in 1878. Founded to promote the city of St. Louis and encourage economic activity in the city, the civic and philanthropic organization’s mission carries on today through its extensive commitment to the local community.

For 134 years, it has provided the nationally acclaimed annual VP Parade as a gift to the city. In addition, Fair St. Louis still is led by VP members. While those two events are high-profile staples in St. Louis, lesser known are the additional services and gifts the VP provides the community. It has invested in such projects as the overlook stage on Leonor K. Sullivan Boulevard, the staircase connecting the Gateway Arch with the riverfront, and the additional lighting on the Eads Bridge. The VP Foundation, the nonprofit arm of the organization, also has arranged member involvement in projects that include the STL for Sandy trucks and hospital outreach programs led by VP Krewe members, as well as a commitment to developing a hall of honor for fallen officers at the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department’s new headquarters.

However, one of the best examples of the VP’s focus on community service is the Maids of Honor Project, says Cooke. For more than a decade, the organization has encouraged the young ladies who are presented at each year’s VP Ball to participate in a community service outreach program. For two summers before their presentation, the girls, their fathers and often their families contribute a total of six Saturdays of volunteer work. Organized by the VP Foundation, the project currently works with seven nonprofits: Beyond Housing, Food Outreach, Brightside St. Louis, YWCA, Rainbow Village, Gateway 180 and Northside Community School. “The mission of the VP is to enhance the lives of everyone who call St. Louis home, and that means everyone, not just our membership,” says Dave Plufka, vice-chair of the community service initiative, and whose daughter was presented at the ball a couple of years ago. “It’s so important to give back to the community and try to make it better. Even if it’s just raking mulch, painting walls or cleaning, it makes an impact.”

Every year, the project has almost 100-percent participation; and this past summer, 116 debutantes and 126 dads, spouses and siblings contributed more than 1,000 hours to the effort. “It gives the young women a great opportunity to get involved and be introduced to the whole nonprofit sector that is so in need of donor and volunteer time,” Cooke says.

At this year’s ball, the ladies will be honored for their commitment to the community, and they often continue to contribute afterwards, with last year’s participants taking part in the recent Krewe visit to Shriners Hospital.

With the success of the Maids of Honor Project and the VP’s various other commitments, the organization hopes to expand its involvement in the future. “When people think of the VP, they think of the parade and the fair, but we would like that third leg of the organization to be our community service initiatives,” Cooke says. “We want to leverage our abilities and talents to support St. Louis in a meaningful and substantial way.”

ON THE COVER: Through the Veiled Prophet Organization’s summer community service initiative, young women invest time alongside family members to make a difference throughout St. Louis. In 2012, the program provided more than 1,000 hours of service to Food Outreach, Brightside St. Louis, Rainbow Village, Beyond Housing, Gateway 180, Northside Community School and YWCA. Pictured on the cover: 2012 Veiled Prophet Queen ???. For more information, visit veiledprophet.org.

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