JF & amp;CS helps gather signatures in petition drive


The recent Super Tuesday primary offered the perfect opportunity for volunteers from the Jewish Family & Children’s Service to gather signatures to place the Putting Kids First initiative on the November ballot. The initiative asks for a 1/4-cent sales tax, to create a Community Children’s Service Fund. The tax would generate around $40 million annually to spend on services for children from birth to age 19 in St. Louis County. St. Charles and Jefferson counties and the City of St. Louis have already passed similar measures.

“This would be the first time a tax in St. Louis County would focus on children’s services,” JF &CS executive director Lou Albert said. “The county is very large and very diverse in every way imaginable with a lot of different groups — not all equally able to access services.”

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Over the years funds available to provide mental health and substance abuse services has been steadily shrinking. JF &CS was one of the not-for-profit groups who came together to see if a new fund could be created for the county. The group did a poll to make sure there was interest and that people would support the initiative.

“The polling was so positive,” Albert said. “The needs are so visible.”

The group also had a needs assessment completed to look at the unmet mental health service necessities for children in the county. According to the study more than 12,000 children in need of services in St. Louis County are not receiving help and more than 150,000 children do not get prevention programs in school. These and other unmet needs impact more than 490,000 families.

“The funds generated by the tax will help us meet those needs,” Albert said. “We as an agency are potentially able to receive funding from this tax to help assist children.”

Some of the services which benefit children and youth with funds generated from the tax would include: help for homeless youth with transitional living assistance, help and support for families with emergency situations, respite for parents of children with special challenges, counseling, therapy and treatment, education and prevention and temporary shelter services. Funds generated by the tax will be allocated by a volunteer independent board which will be audited each year to make sure the money is spent on “effective and efficient programming, according to the needs identified in the community” according to initiative’s website.

The ad hoc group of interested people and not-for-profit agencies serving kids which started the grassroots effort to support the initiative has been growing and gaining momentum. Catholic Charities recently committed $75,000 to the initiative campaign. Despite the bad weather on Super Tuesday, 197 volunteers gathered 2,194 signatures at the polls.

Della Benham, JF &CS manager of clinical services, was one of the staff volunteers gathering signatures at the polls. She wasn’t sure what kind of reaction she would receive as she spoke to people about a new tax as they left the polling place.

“I got a very positive reception, especially when I talked about the children,” Benham said. “Several people even stopped and approached me to find out more when they saw me wearing my Putting Kids First button.”

The group needs to gather 40,000 signatures by May in order to have the initiative on the November ballot. Albert considers it a very manageable number considering the amount of agencies, staff and volunteers involved and the importance of the project.

“It is so difficult for families in need and the parents are stressed to the max,” Benham said. “Getting assistance for substance abuse or mental health issues is not at the top of their list when there is no food on the table and no money for rent.”

Signers of the Putting Kids First initiative need to be residents of St. Louis County and registered voters. A petition is available for signing at JF &CS, 10950 Schuetz Road, St. Louis 63146. To volunteer and for more information on the Putting Kids First initiative visit: www.stlcokidsfirst.org.