25 Years of Community Support Helps St. Louis ASO Thrive

While other AIDS Service Organizations are being forced to downsize, St. Louis Effort for AIDS (EFA) has been fortunate, holding steady in a down economy, thanks to a diversified approach to fundraising and a base of loyal donors.

“St. Louis is a very generous community and it has been inspiring to see how people have stepped up in this economy,” Executive Director Cheryl Oliver. EFA has used Broadway Cares grants to upgrade the organization’s client reception areas, expand its meeting space, and purchase computer equipment that many of its low-income clients use to search for jobs, and support its Pets Are Wonderful Support (PAWS) program.

Helping Themselves

EFA has made some of its own luck by persistent and creative fundraising efforts, says Events/Marketing Director Jenna Schoenborn. “About 17% of our budget comes from events.” Events of ALL sizes. “We have no shame,” laughs Development Director Matthew Palmer. “If you do an event for $300, we are there. And in tough times like these, this attitude has really paid off for us.”

Though Broadway Cares’ 2009 grant of $7,500 was helpful, our theatrical connections have been equally beneficial. Whenever the national tour of a Broadway show comes to St. Louis for a week or longer, we help EFA reach out to cast and crew to coordinate a small fundraiser.

In 2009, they teamed up with cast members fromSpring Awakening. This year, the cast of Greaseperformed at “The Foxhole,” a performance space adjacent to Atomic Cowboy, the friendly restaurant that also supports EFA’s annual Dining Out for Life fundraiser. Tickets to the Grease event sold for $35 ($25 for SRO), and over $3,500 was raised through a live auction, with the most popular prize being tickets to the musical along with a backstage tour (pictured at left) and a chance to meet the actors who played “Danny” and “Sandy.”

Now in its 17th year, Dining Out for Life – EFA’s biggest fundraiser – continues to grow as it matures. In 2009, 132 local restaurants participated, donating between 25 and 100 percent of one evening’s proceeds to EFA. Despite the down economy, this community-wide fundraiser generated $225,000, substantially more than in 2008 ($190,000).

Volunteer support – and supporting their volunteers – has been another key element to the EFA’s long-term success. “In addition to about 25 weekly volunteers, we have over 300 Dining Out for Life volunteers,” says Oliver. “It’s been calculated that their effort translates into more than $100,000 in in-kind donations!”

This summer EFA will commemorate 25 years of service to the community during “A Picnic With Friends” in St. Louis’ Forest Park. Oliver adds, “Without our volunteer support these years of service would not have been possible.”