This spring Invest STL is taking time to lift up voices, stories and neighborhoods to help us reflect on 2020 and celebrate some of our brighter moments of connection and impact in St. Louis neighborhoods. We sat down with some of our partners to look at their highly collaborative and responsive work spawned by the newly created Neighborhood Solidarity Fund and the urgent needs 2020 amplified in the community. Each Monday, over the next few weeks we will introduce a neighborhood leader to share perspective on what 2020 looked like in their neighborhood and how they were able to channel hope in challenging times.
Safety and solidarity go hand in hand in any neighborhood. Sherri Bailey, the Block Unit Captain for the 5200 block of Kensington Avenue, understands her role as part of a legacy of effective neighborhood organizing and community building. As part of a documentary project, Sherri has heard the oral passing down of stories from folks who have been in the neighborhood since the 50’s.
“One of the things that they said was, they stayed in their own Academy, or Fountain Park, or West End neighborhood because there was this comradery that they had. They felt safe in the neighborhood. That’s kind of how we feel now. COVID was bitter-sweet, but with these resources it really brought people together. And I thank you all for giving us this opportunity, it really went a long way. So now neighbors look out for neighbors.”
“We have a very active block unit and we created a campaign called, ‘Kensington Cares’ and we took it a step further. We went all the way down to Kingshighway. Created a phone tree with the neighborhoods. With all the isolation this helped us figure out what people needed. There were folks who needed energy assistance, people who had lost their jobs, who got laid off from the Hyatt Hotel. We were able to connect them to resources. Because, also, my relationship with the other neighborhoods. We have a great relationship with the West End, Cornerstone, the West End Neighbors, Lisa, Tony, Monique … Fountain Park, Vandeventer, The Ville, Dutchtown … everybody up and down Delmar, the Makerspace … We have relationships with other neighborhoods, so therefore, we are able to share those resources and knowledge.
“When you refer someone to a resource, you’re not just talking a lot of hot air, just to get them off your phone. You can actually say, ‘Call Lisa Potts who works at Peoples [Community Action Corporation.] Or call this person at Tandy Park, or this person that you know a name at Spire. So you’re not just talking. They get results! They get results and they are really happy about that.”
Sherri is keen on how a small investment in connectivity can pay off in huge ways for people. Their lives are improved through the solidarity that folks show to one another.
Hi Sherri, thanks again for joining us today. We’re interested in talking with you about neighborhood connectivity and its impact. We also want to understand your story and your experience with 2020 and what it was like for you and your neighbors to navigate all the challenges and opportunities. I’d like to just start with some of the basics. Can you tell us your name, organization, and the neighborhood or neighborhoods that you serve or are in?
I’m Sherri Bailey. I live in the 5200 Block of Kensington, where I am the block captain. This is right off of Kensington and Union. We are in between Soldan High School and Pilgrim Congregational Church.
The grant that we applied for, we got $100, but let me tell you, that $100 went a long way! We have a very active block unit and we created a campaign called, “Kensington Cares.”
And like I said, we have an active block unit in the 5200 Block of Kensington and we took it a step further. We went all the way down to Kingshighway. So that’s the 5200 block, the 5100 and the 5000 block. We had contacts on each block.
Created a phone tree during COVID with the neighborhoods just to check in. With all the isolation this helped us figure out what people needed. We also partnered with Enright which is directly south of us the very next street over. We partnered with them and we would make calls and check in with people. There were folks who needed energy assistance, people who had lost their jobs, who got laid off from the Hyatt Hotel. We were able to connect them to resources.
Pilgrim Congregational Church had an active food pantry where they were able to serve food to the homeless every Wednesday at noon, but because of COVID they had to shut that down. We were able to talk to the pastor of the church, Reverend Ross and he was able to donate $3000 to Centennial Church, which is on Fountain, in the Fountain Park Neighborhood just east of North Kingshighway. With that $3000, they were able to serve hot meals twice a week on Wednesdays and Fridays. And on the second and fourth Saturday, they gave away boxes of food. I mean, meet and produce, and dairy products. So with that partnership the people in the neighborhood that were going to the Pilgrim food pantry and soup kitchen were now able to get a hot meal twice a week at Centennial. With that partnership being so close, those people who didn’t have cars were able to walk over there to get meals. Actually they are still doing it now because right before Christmas Pilgrim was able to donate another $2000, because their food kitchen is still closed due to COVID.
We also partnered with Park Central, in the Academy/Sherman Park Neighborhood. We were able to get seniors’ groceries delivered every two weeks.
We have a community garden, and with a lot of the kids being home from school, they were able to come over to the garden and plant seeds and grow things. Actually it changed their diet during COVID. So, that was bitter-sweet because if they hadn’t been at home they wouldn’t have known that we had this gardena and were out there everyday, you know pulling weeds. And the kids would come over to participate.
Soldan High School since there was no school, they gave away bags of food every Friday, so that was another resource in our neighborhood that most people didn’t know about.
A lot of people, we found out, whose kids were home from school, the parents did not have cars and they were able to walk over to Soldan every Friday to pick up food for an entire week.
So with this grant we were able to use it for postage and for fliers to get the word out because a lot of our residents didn’t have the internet. We basically used the grant resources as a communications tool to get the word out about these resources in the community.
That’s great! It’s cool to see that you were able to partner with so many of the blocks around you and the local folks around you. That is inspiring to hear. I’m curious, what was the response from the wider neighborhood? You mentioned a lot about who participated in the effort, can you talk about who benefited and what was the response from the community?
The response was, people don’t want to move now. “I’m not leaving your neighborhood Sherri!”
Specifically, there are some apartments in the neighborhood, and I reached out to the owner of those properties, who were effective in sharing information with the residents who lived there. There was COVID assistance available for people who had lost their jobs, there was rental assistance available, there was utility assistance, and we were able to communicate that to the residents. So that was a win-win, because not only were the neighbors able to get assistance to pay their bills, to eat, to pay their rent and it was also good for the owners of the properties because they were able to get money during that time.
The tenets were calling the landlords and saying, “Oh my God! Thank you for letting us know about these resources! We’re not moving from your property because we love Academy Neighborhood because we lost our jobs and our landlord was able to give us resources for food and utilities.” I almost cried. That grant allowed us to get the communications out and let people know about the resources available to them.
Even for people who have businesses. Like the lady who owns, Too Much Sauce, on Delmar, inside of Legacy. She was an executive at the Marriott Hotel and she lost her job. So, with the CARES information and other things, she was able to open that restaurant. Just frying a little chicken, trying to make ends meet. We featured her restaurant in the Academy/Sherman Park Newsletter in September and by October someone had reached out to her from Sauce Magazine and she was featured in their October/November issue and a lot of the neighbors are supporting.
The biggest thing, Shannon, I thought was — we became a family! We supported Austin’s Barber Shop around the corner on Delmar. We were going to Legacy [Bar & Grill.] We were going to Ridge Auto Body on Union and Ridge. So what this really brought out, was people becoming a family, supporting local businesses in our neighborhood instead of driving across town. It was a win-win for everybody when the word was getting out and people could get what they need right here
One of the neighbors mentioned that there was a family that was in need of a bed for their children to sleep on. And the next thing I know, someone is calling to borrow my truck. What do you need the truck for? They had purchased a mattress! So the neighbors have really been stepping up to help one another in the community.
Sherri, you have so many inspiring little anecdotes to share with us. It is really wonderful! It seems like the connectivity, the ability to point people in the direction that they need, really supported folks. You kind of have a broader picture, and you were able to share parts of that picture with various neighbors so that they could get connected to the resources that otherwise they might not have known were there.
That seems to be a big theme in how the grant was able to, like you say, spur on activity that would have happened anyway, but to have a little resource behind it and knowing that there are organizations that believe in that work, at that grassroots neighborhood level, helps inspire things to move a little more fluidly. I wonder if you have an anecdote that sort of sums up this inspirational quality? This notion of how you were able to find hope and you were able to share that hope with others in your neighborhood. Is there one story that encapsulates it?
I think it’s also because of my relationships with the other neighborhoods. We have a great relationship with the West End, Cornerstone, people from the West End Neighbors, Lisa, Tony, Monique… Fountain Park, Vandenenter, the Ville, Dutchtown, everybody up and down Delmar, the Makerspace… We have relationships with other neighborhoods, so therefore, we are able to share those resources and knowledge. When you refer someone to a resource, you’re not just talking a lot of hot air, just to get them off your phone. You can actually say, “Call Lisa Potts who works at Peoples. Or call this person at Tandey Park, or this person that you know a name at Spire. So you’re not just talking. They get results! They get results and they are really happy about that.
We wrote a book about the Cabanne Neighborhood as a history project and we are currently doing a documentary with some people who have been in the neighborhood since the 50’s. One of the things that they said was, they stayed in their own Academy, or Fountain Park, or West End neighborhood because there was this comradery that they had. They felt safe in the neighborhood. That’s kinda how we feel now. COVID was bitter-sweet, but with these resources it really brought people together. And I thank you all for giving us this opportunity, it really went a long way. So now neighbors look out for neighbors.
Working with Good Journey, working with the St. Louis Public Library to pass out books. We had a book club where kids could join online and discuss what they were reading remotely. All these activities helped to sustain the neighbors during this time. The activities and resources have definitely brought us closer together.
Sure. So, 2020 was full of unexpected challenges, were there any surprising or unexpected challenges that you all came across? Yourself or your neighbors?
As far as COVID, the biggest surprise or unexpected challenge was to learn of dear personal losses. There was one neighbor who, she has five sisters and it was their thing to go visit their mother every Sunday with all the sisters. Then for them to learn that they could not visit their mom and then to learn that their mom had passed. So that was the biggest thing, when people had loved ones, neighbors who had family members who were dying and there was little that they could do. So just supporting them during the grief period. You can’t go to their houses, or take them a sweet potato pie, or coconut cake, like we would. Just to know that your neighbor is suffering or grieving and they have to be alone, that was the toughest part.
We endured, it was bitter-sweet. We endured, and still are, still enduring it.
Yes. Clearly you have done a lot to spread the resources and support and connect folks to so much more. It is really inspiring to see that kind of solidarity between different blocks, between different organizations and as you said, even across various neighborhoods. The way that you are doing that by engaging your community is wonderful and we appreciate you sharing all the positivity that is coming out of Academy/Sherman Park.
Absolutely. Thank you, I appreciate you all. I’m humbled to be asked and it’s good to finally meet you!
Thank you Sherri. I’m sure we will be in touch moving forward.