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March/April 2020

A service project in a classroom with twelve students to provide an Easter basket for a child who otherwise would not receive one, somehow grew into a not-for-profit serving St. Charles County and beyond. With years of experience in social work in food pantries, shelters and group homes, I realized the children who received Christmas gifts from the generosity of others did not receive anything at Easter. Easter is, or should be, a time for hope and celebration of new life. Something as simple as being given an Easter basket can give a child a sense of hope and belonging.
Through determination and a passion to help others, I was able to exponentially increase the number of Easter baskets distributed each year. Alleluia is proclaimed at Easter, hence the name for the organization, Alleluia Baskets.

There were some obstacles to overcome in creating a not-for-profit, including financing, location, and time. Therefore, the learning process began with appropriate phone calls to city and state offices. I completed most of the paperwork and then had it reviewed by an attorney. There was more to learn and do once I understood that there was additional paperwork to be completed in order to have a tax exemption letter, but with the experience of filling out forms for the EIN it was not difficult.

The financing factor included the cost of the legal proceedings, the purchasing of items for the Easter baskets (before the army of contributors came together), and the necessary operational costs. Location was also a great hurdle to overcome because of the space needed to store items and, more importantly, space for volunteers to fill Easter baskets each season. With each setback there were triumphs, perhaps not quickly although at the right moment. The space for storage was relatively easier to solve, family and friends offered their basements or garages for the items to be stored until they were needed. It only took a request and they happily complied.

The more pressing issue was to locate a space to fill the Easter baskets. After it outgrew the school and my home, it came time to find a permanent location. Every year in the late summer months nearly one hundred phone calls were made to landlords, realtors and business owners to find a suitable space, one with a restroom and climate control, to invite volunteers to come and fill Easter baskets. Each year, by late November a space would be secured because of the generosity of someone or local business. Fortunately, the cost of liability insurance was covered by my insurance agent, Rob Hamann, who learned of the project and wanted to support it with his services. He even offered a space for a couple of the early years. Our hopes and prayers were to locate a permanent location to call home and not move all the product and supplies each year. The fear of asking quickly dissipates when there is passion, desire, and need.

Many joys and accomplishments were recognized from the beginning. The support of family and friends was growing rapidly as the word spread of the mission to help children smile on Easter morning. This helped with the purchase of items to use in the baskets. I decided to earn a business degree to help Alleluia Baskets grow. Speaking with other founders of NPOs was found to be quite beneficial in fundraising ventures, finding the best board members, and social media communication.

Today, we have a space in Old Town St. Peters on Main Street where we are able to store our supplies and completed baskets, and provide a place for volunteers to fill Easter baskets in a welcoming, comfortable environment.
The number of children who receive our baskets through food pantries, organized homes, shelters, churches, and the care of others has grown organically. Word of mouth will continue to be our main source of communicating our mission. Last year we were invited to be on Fox 2 News in the morning. The experience was exciting and tremendous for all.
Our volunteer base has grown from 12 to 700, with several core groups involved in quality control, packing, delivering and communication. As time moved forward it became evident Alleluia Baskets needed more attention for it to grow, to reach more children on Easter and increase the number of volunteers who wanted to help. I took a leap of faith when I gave notice to my full-time employer and increased my volunteer hours with Alleluia Baskets to full time.

Joining a networking group was also very beneficial. TEAM Network gifts a space for a NPO in each chapter. This chapter has been supportive in many of the details needed to operate a professional NPO, with website design, printing, financial donations, attendance and sponsorships for fundraisers. Other networking has gifted us with an accountant (Morris Tax Service) who provides her time, guidance and assistance pro bono. We acquired a trailer for delivery, wrapped in our logo and name to bring awareness of this unique NPO.

We serve St. Charles, Warren, Lincoln, St. Louis, and Jefferson counties, as well as Springfield, Missouri and Caseyville, Illinois. Our hope is to keep growing so all children will wake up with a smile on Easter morning.

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