2022-2023 Programs

Hungering for Justice: Solving Food Insecurity

May 11, 2023

At the May program, Operation Food Search (OFS) director of communications, Jocelyn Fundoukos, and director of policy and advocacy, Beverly L. Isom shared how their organization is working to address both short-term immediate hunger relief and long-term solutions to end the cycle of food insecurity.

OFS began in the 1970s as a hunger relief organization by partnering with grocers to rescue leftover food and get it to those in need. Currently, they serve 200,000 people a month across the bi-state area to provide food, nutrition education and innovative programs.

To address immediate needs for food, OFS distributes food to agency partners (e.g., food pantries, libraries, etc.). This includes reaching children with after school and summer meals. Foods are sourced from food drives, unused crops rescued from farms and purchased directly. OFS also operates St. Louis Metro Market, a converted city bus that brings low-priced fresh, healthy food to neighborhoods with low access, allowing shoppers to make healthy food choices.

OFS also offers educational programs to build nutrition where they help clients make the connection between food and health, as well as shop on a budget. Nutritionists provide cooking demonstrations where clients learn how to cook foods they’re not familiar with.

As champions of change, OFS has launched a “food is medicine” program to get food and services to people with certain health conditions. In partnership with Washington University’s Social Policy Institute, they are tracking data to make the case that food should be a reimbursable healthcare expense. This would allow physicians to prescribe food to achieve positive health outcomes, saving health insurance companies money in the long run. A pilot program with prenatal women has shown success.

In addition to meeting short-term needs of food insecurity, OFS advocates and promotes policy. Beverly Isom provides a unique perspective, having grown up as a child living in poverty who experienced food insecurity.

OFS focuses on a variety of policy issues relate to food and food access.

  • Food Deserts
    Low food access (within a half mile) is a serious problem in St. Louis. 56% of St. Louis City residents and 27% St. Louis Metro area residents are low income and have low food access. Those with a median household income under $30,000 have access to the least amount of grocery stores in St. Louis.

    In 2023, MO Senator Doug Beck introduced SB 143, which would have increased tax credits for donations to food pantries, tax credits for grocery stores and small-scale farms in food deserts. It would have also removed taxes on diapers and period products. OFS advocated for passages of this bill. While this bill was not passed into law in this year’s legislative session, OFS is hopeful that a similar bill will be introduced again next year.
  • SNAP benefits
    OFS seeks to restrict work requirements.  and opposed HB 747 (that would impose maximum penalties for those who do not meet certain work requirements for the SNAP program). Research shows that strict work requirements result in making people more food insecure.
  • Postpartum Extended Medical Care for Poor Women
    MO senate recently voted to extend postpartum Medicaid coverage from 60 days to one year.
  • Free universal school lunches
    OFS supported SB 321 for universal free school lunches; it would cover the co-pay for students who qualify for reduced price school meals.

    The MO State budget includes $56 million to expand pre-K to all four-year-olds eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.
  • Childcare Benefits
    Subsidy rates increased and various tax credits

Innovative programs currently underway at OFS include the WIC Project. 47% of those eligible for WIC benefits in MO aren’t receiving these benefits. In partnership with Wash U, OFS is working on developing and improving resources to participants, including technical assistance and educational videos

Opportunities for Engagement:

Watch recorded presentation here.

Women Mayors Talking: How Gender, Race, and Politics Intersect In Our Communities

April 13, 2023

As of February 2023, the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) reported that of the 1,616 mayors and officials who perform mayoral functions in U. S. cities, towns, and minor civil divisions, 424 or 26.2% were women. These communities were comprised of 30,000 or more residents. At our April 13th program, WVR was honored to engage with three local women mayors to hear their views on how gender and race influence politics in their jurisdictions: Ella Jones, elected as the first female and African American woman mayor of Ferguson in 2020; Laura Arnold, PhD, elected mayor in 2022—the first new mayor in nearly a quarter century and Nikylan Knapper, JD, the first African-American to be elected mayor of Maplewood, Missouri. 

Mayors Laura Arnold, Nikylan Knapper & Ella Jones
Mayor Ella Jones and Karen Francis

When asked “How differently do men and women govern?” there was consensus among these political leaders that men and women do govern differently. “Women are nurturers by nature… women tend to build relationships…women have a more democratic style…women recognize that everything is a process.” Each also agreed that gender or race provided no advantages with one exception: women have opportunities to show girls what they can do by seeing women in these leadership roles.

Mayor Nikylan Knapper speaks to program attendee

When asked “What advice would you offer other women who are contemplating leadership roles?” they offered the following: “Recognize that you are enough…you have enough experience…you do not have to satisfy every single requirement listed on a job description…don’t try to be like someone else…your self-worth is not defined by someone else…get a mentor…reach back and bring other women forward…if you can convince a man to marry you, you can do anything!”

Mayors Laura Arnold, Nikylan Knapper & Ella Jones

These mayors were candid, insightful, passionate about their work and communities, and entertaining. 

Watch the recorded presentation here.

Reading, Writing, and Racism: Working for Equity Education

March 9, 2023

Speakers at the Women’s Voices March program discussed efforts of the various organizations they represent to address equity in our schools. This includes training to board candidates and others, advocacy with local school boards and on state legislative efforts and direct services to students and families, including legal representation.

Christina Brimm, MSW, senior social worker, Education Justice Program (EJP) at Legal Services of Eastern MO (LSEM)
Tamar Brown, director of education advocacy, A Red Circle
Heather Fleming, founder and directorIn Purpose Educational Services, founder of MO Equity Education Partnership (MoEEP)
Joy Weese Moll, community activist, West County Community Action Network (WE CAN)
Elizabeth A. Vandenberg, staff attorney, Education Justice Program (EJP) at Legal Services of Eastern Missouri (LSEM)

Watch the recorded presentation here.

Racism and Reparative Justice: Acknowledging Our Past, Reshaping Our Future

February 9, 2023

Geoff Ward, PhD, professor of African and African American Studies at Washington University in St. Louis

Watch the recorded presentation here.

The Big Chill: How Extremism Is Eroding Our Rights

January 18, 2023

Speaker: Marie Griffith, PhD, director, John C. Danforth Center of Religion and Politics

Watch the recorded presentation here.

Gun Violence: Caring for Trauma Victims

December 8, 2022

Maggie Spruce, MD, adjunct instructor of surgery, Washington University School of Medicine
Sean Marz, director of training and technical assistance, Alive & Well Communities

Dr. Maggie Spruce, trauma and general surgeon at Barnes Jewish and Christian Hospitals, described the physical trauma related to gun violence. Presenting a fictional scenario based on gun shot patients she has treated, she painted a picture of the ongoing journey, both mental and physical, that can follow a gun-related injury

Statistics on gun deaths in the U.S. and in St. Louis, specifically, demonstrate the public health emergency we face. In the U.S., there are more than 39,000 gun deaths per year (over 100 per day), with 1.5 million civilians dying by gun since 1968. This does not include deaths from later complications. Gun death is the leading cause of death for Americans under age 19. The U.S. has the highest child and teen firearm mortality rate among peer countries, which is over 18 times that of other nations (peer countries average of .3 deaths per 100,000 vs 5.6 per 100,000 in the U.S.). Racial disparities make the picture even more grim for black children 17 and under, who are nearly six times more likely to die of gun injuries than white children. In Missouri, there were 262 homicides in 2020 (90% by firearm) and gun injuries account for the deaths 116 children and teens each year. In St. Louis, half of St. Louis homicides occur in one of four zip codes.

Conservative estimates show that more than 85,000 citizens are injured each year by guns, creating an often overlooked burden on victims and healthcare industry. Up to 20% of survivors will die of gun violence in the five years following their initial gun-related injury. In the last ten years these numbers have continued to increase.

Dr. Spruce pointed out that these issues are a uniquely American problem. Among World Bank High-Income Countries with populations greater than 10 million, rates of firearm homicides per 100,000 population (4.12 per 100,000 in U.S.) are more than double that of Chile, and more than eight times that of all other countries on the list. Urban U.S. emergency rooms are now a training ground for military surgeons from allied countries preparing these medical professionals for service in war zones.

In addition to the physical and emotional trauma of gun violence, there is a significant financial and societal burden as well. It is estimated that the financial cost is over $280 billion each year in the U.S.

Dr. Spruce described a variety of factors related to the American crisis of gun deaths, including root causes such as access to guns, concentrated poverty, income inequality, underfunded public housing, underfunded schools, under-resourced public services, lack of opportunity and perceptions of hopelessness. Dr. Spruce cited the need for public investment and legislation to allow for and fund research and intervention to clearly define societal risk factors and access to guns. As a public health crisis, gun violence prevention requires both government regulations and support to:

  1. Define and monitor the problem
  2. Identify risks and protective factors
  3. Develop and test prevention strategies
  4. Ensure widespread adoption of effective strategies

Local resources for victims of gun trauma:

Sean Marz, director of training and technical assistance at Alive and Well Communities, encouraged us to think more broadly about the definition of trauma, describing a trauma-inducing events as any threat to one’s safety, physical or psychological, whether actual or perceived. How one experiences trauma is influenced by one’s lived experience, past trauma, personal level of resilience and other factors. The effects that follow a traumatic event will also vary by individual.

Marz identified both individual factors, or adverse life experiences, that impact one’s experience of trauma, as well as adverse community events, echoing the societal risk factors highlighted by Dr. Spruce that are cyclical and play a role in how individuals react to a traumatic events. Such community trauma is often ignored, but results in persistent and ongoing circumstances that increase an individual’s vulnerability to experiences of trauma. These layers of trauma (individual, community, historical and systemic oppression) must be identified and addressed to help communities thrive.

Marz emphasized that to disrupt these cycles we must strive to see the world through the lens of trauma, and change the questions from asking “what’s wrong with you?” to “what’s continuing to happen in this very moment?” We must build authentic relationships that allow for empathy and unconditional positive regard to our fellow human beings.

Watch the recorded program here. Warning: images in this video are graphic and may be upsetting to viewers.

Mental Health: Resources for Recovery

November 10, 2022

Jessie Brown, MA, director of programs, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), St. Louis
Jennifer Higginbotham, LCSW, MSW, chief program officer, Independence Center

Watch the recorded program here.

Domestic Violence: Groundbreaking Efforts

October 13, 2022

Carla Maley, director of Community Engagement, St. Martha’s Hall
Jill Theresa Messing, MSW, PhD, director of the Office of Gender-Based Violence, Arizona State University
Laura Morris-Halfmann, MSW, LCSW co-manager, Lasting Solutions Family Law Program, Legal Services of Eastern Missouri
Wilford Pinkney, Jr., director, Office of Violence Prevention, City of St. Louis
Jesenia Pizarro, PhD, School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Arizona State University
Emily Stoinski, community education coordinator, Safe Connections

Dr. Jill Messing and Dr. Jesenia Pizzaro discussed preliminary findings of the PAIR Studies from Missouri and five other states. These studies are designed to identify and evaluate the risk factors for intimate partner homicide. Individuals who have lost a loved one are encouraged to participate in this important research to help prevent future intimate partner homicides. Individuals who have lost a loved one are encouraged to participate in this important research to help prevent future intimate partner homicides. Contact the PAIR Studies research team by email to pair.studies@asu.edu, by phone at 602-543-3316 or online, here.

Wilford Pinkney, Jr. provided details about the City of St. Louis’s new Office of Violence Prevention and how the office is working to address and prevent domestic violence in the St. Louis. He also provided information identified through the Domestic Violence Assaults in St. Louis City, Missouri: A Trend Analysis of 2015-2021, which aims to identify and update risk and protective factors for intimate partner homicide in order to develop prevention interventions.

We also heard from members of St. Louis Ending Domestic and Sexual Violence (SLEDSVN), a partnership of organizations providing networking opportunities, promoting awareness of member organizations working with individuals and families experiencing domestic and sexual violence. SLEDSVN also provides education focusing on the prevention, advocacy, and treatment, as well as a host of resources, including housing and shelter resources, counseling, court advocacy, financial support, hotline support before, during, and after separation from a partner using harm. 

Emily Stoinksi discussed support services available at Safe Connections to domestic violence survivors ages 12 and up of all genders. Services include education, prevention, crisis intervention, counseling, and support services. Contact the Safe Connections 24-hour crisis helpline at 314-531-2003 (call or text).

St. Martha’s Hall’s Carla Maley provided information about their shelter and ongoing resources for women and children impacted by domestic violence. Transportation and emergency financial assistance, support, crisis intervention, legal advocacy, assistance navigating systems, safety planning, education and support to family & friends, trainings and community workshops are also available. St. Martha’s Hall provides drop-in services, no appointment needed, at Assumption Catholic Church (4733 Mattis Rd, 63128). Contact the St. Martha’s Hall 24-hour crisis helpline at 314-533-1313.

Laura Halfmann-Morris described the free civil legal representation to low-income families available through Legal Services of Eastern Missouri. This includes legal representation for survivors of domestic and sexual violence and assistance with divorce, custody, paternity, orders of protection and family law matters, as well as social work support and connections to resources such as safety planning, etc. 

Program cosponsors: Office of Gender-Based Violence at Arizona State University; The Brown School’s Center for Violence and Injury Prevention at Washington University in St. Louis; Legal Services of Eastern Missouri and St. Louis Ending Domestic and Sexual Violence Network (SLEDSVN).

Watch the recorded program here.

Midterms Matter: Advocacy and Education for the November Election

September 8, 2022

Speakers: Christine Dragonette, director of Social Ministry, St. Francis Xavier College Church. Michele Steinberg, Women’s Voices membership director and liaison to the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition, Ruth Ehresman, Women’s Voices past president

Michele Steinberg described Missouri’s new HB 1878, as a “total disenfranchisement bill.” It works to keep many groups from voting, including seniors, persons without transportation, the homebound, people with disabilities, shift workers, students with out-of-state IDs, anyone without a photo ID, persons living in shelters or unhoused, and returning citizens. Here are some of the worst provisions:

  • Early voting is only available to those who can vote in person during election office hours and present a photo ID.
  • It is illegal to provide anyone with an absentee ballot application or to help voters fill out parts of the application form. Violations are a class 1 election offense, punishable by possible jail time and loss of voting rights.
  • Voters must present an unexpired Missouri or federal photo ID in order to vote. The law eliminates the non-photo IDs that many Missourians currently use to verify their identity at the polls, and eliminates any obligation for the secretary of state to provide advance notice of the photo ID rules. Steinberg said a provisional ballot may be available for those without an unexpired photo ID. “There’s no guarantee that it will be counted,” she added.

Voter registration efforts thwarted. The bill also obstructs voter registration efforts with confusing, vague regulations: As a volunteer, you can register people to vote, but you must register as a solicitor if you plan to register more than 10 people to vote in an election cycle. Access the solicitor form here. In addition, a volunteer must be at least 18 years of age and a registered voter in Missouri.

In addition, the bill states that no one can be compensated for soliciting registrations but fails to define what constitutes “soliciting” and “compensation.” Steinberg said the lack of clarity makes the law unconstitutional.

Christine Dragonette said the St. Francis Xavier Weekly ID and Birth Certificate Program at the St. Louis University college church helped about 3,800 people last year to navigate the process of obtaining documents and fees to get an official state photo ID. A survey of clients showed that the major reasons for not having a photo ID are loss and fees to obtain documents.

Dragonette described The Missouri State ID Access Coalition, a group committed to eliminating barriers to obtaining state identification faced by Missouri residents experiencing poverty and homelessness. The coalition is based in St. Louis, but it is branching out to others in Missouri. She encouraged participants to get involved:

Ruth Ehresman echoed that message. She encouraged each of us to do something to fight disenfranchisement. Noting that districts and polling places have recently changed, she advised us:

  • Go to http://www.govotemissouri.com/ to check that we are registered to vote.  
  • Participate in canvassing efforts.
  • Volunteer a few hours at a phone bank.
  • Volunteer to text voters.
  • Volunteer for and donate to the candidates you support.

On election day “please do something besides vote,” she said:

“The goal of 1878 is to disenfranchise all of us. To discourage and confuse us,” she said. “We have to get to work and make sure every voter in Missouri can overcome disenfranchisement.”

 Additional Notes

If you are part of an impacted community or know someone who is, contact Gillian Wilcox, ACLU gwilcox@aclu-mo.org 816-470-9938 or Denise Lieberman, MOVPC denise@movpc.org 314-780-1833 for help.

Program Slides
HB 1878 – Michele Steinberg
Missouri State ID Barriers – Christine Dragonette
Make an IMPACT – Ruth Ehresman

Watch the recorded program here.