You don’t have to be a woman, and you don’t have to be Jewish to touch and impact lives through the National Council of Jewish Women St. Louis,  according to executive director Ellen Alper.

“We are one of the few organizations that actually connects the dots between community service and advocacy,” she said. “We’ve been around for almost 125 years, and we have a strong history of identifying the community’s needs and developing a response to those needs.”

For instance, the volunteer-based membership organization has made strides in the fight against human trafficking by spearheading an effort that requires emergency rooms, airports and other places of transit to display posters with the National Human Trafficking Hotline (1-888-373-7888).

In St. Louis, NCJW counts approximately 1,600 members who advocate on a range of issues, including supporting common-sense measures to curb gun violence, preserving reproductive rights, and fighting for racial, economic and social justice.

“Our members bring those passions to the table,” Alper said. “Many of our community service projects over the years have been spun off as independent organizations, such as The Scholarship Foundation, Legal Advocates for Abused Women, and the Crown Center for Senior Living—all of these are independent organizations today.”

Another example of the NCJW’s impact on the community can be observed during its annual Back to School! Store for underserved children.

“It’s a giant, pop-up store where each child is paired with a volunteer, and they’ll go through the store to pick out a backpack, a new winter coat, a pair of shoes, socks, underwear and other personal care items,” Alper explained.

The all-day event in July is a huge undertaking, with hundreds of volunteers helping more than 1,500 children.

“Not only are we giving the kids the stuff they need, they’re being exposed to role models. They develop a relationship with their personal shoppers, who get them excited about going back to school—that’s important. We know that when kids go to school on the first day, they’re more likely to stay in school,” she noted. “But it’s not enough to give the child a backpack. We examine why the child needs it to begin with, why don’t his or her parents have a job that pays a living wage? That’s how we tie it together with our advocacy work.”

It’s all part of the belief in the Jewish value of  repairing the world or “tikkun olam,” according to Alper.

“As Jews, we have an obligation to give back and touch lives,” she said, recalling a prior Back to School event. “We had a little boy who was walking through the store with his personal shopper. When he saw all these people helping all these kids, he pulled out a dollar from his pocket and said, ‘I want to help, too—’ that’s how we know we’re making a difference.”

MISSION

To advance social and economic justice for all women, children and families.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

More than 650 volunteers are needed to set up, break down, and work morning, midday and afternoon shifts for the Back to School! Store event in July. Sponsors, and monetary and in-kind donations such as school supplies and clothing are also needed. For more information, visit ncjwstl.org.