Relying on the kindness of others for support, Assistance League of Southern Utah fills a vacuum to help cloth children in desperate need of the simplest of items such as socks, shirts, pants and warm jackets.
Earlier this month, the St. George City Council voted unanimously to sponsor an event and waive the fees for an “upscale pop-up market” hosted by Indigo Enterprises, which will directly benefit Assistance League’s efforts.
From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on May 9, more than 25 vendors will set up tents in Town Square to sell an eclectic mix of locally made handcrafted items.
Not a farmer’s market, the St. George Market is designed to offer residents and visitors a chance to buy everything from jewelry, vintage clothing, paintings and antique signs with proceeds benefiting Assistance League event director Indigo Klabanoff said.
“We want to get the best of the best,” Klabanoff said. “We have so many hidden gems in St. George and this event is about showcasing what we have. It’s honestly been a beautiful process. It really reminds me how much good there is in our community.”
From a young child and into adulthood, Klabanoff has always embraced the credo that we are our brother’s keeper. In her own small way, she is heavily involved in her church, outreach to her community and helping to raise money for organizations like Assistance League.
“It’s crazy when you learn how many people are in need, but it’s mind-blowing how many people come together to help,” she said. “It’s my mission to uplift organizations like Assistance League. When I found out about them, I knew I instantly wanted to become involved.”
When Klabanoff heard about children who are in need of clothes, she said it pulled at her heartstrings.
“As a society, we need to fill in those gaps,” she said. “It’s always so shocking, but even though there are cracks, there are organizations out there trying to help.”
Gail Neumann, president of Assistance League, said support from people like Klabanoff is critical.
“We feel so blessed by the generosity of this community,” Neumann said. “But for a long time, we feel that we have been the best-kept secret in town.”
The national nonprofit organization has been in existence for more than 100 years, with the Southern Utah chapter celebrating 12 years.
Although most assistance leagues fund themselves through running thrift shops, the Southern Utah chapter does not.
Because of the decision not to compete with other organizations like Deseret Industries, the chapter relies on annual fundraising activities and grants that raise approximately $120,000 each year.
“We are just a bunch of grandmas who get it done,” Neumann said with a laugh.
The money raised, Neumann added, helps a great many children.
“What the school district tells us is that there are anywhere from 800 to 1,000 children who are considered to be (categorically) homeless,” she said. “Of the 34,000 K-12 students in the district, approximately 9,000 are living in poverty.”
Assistance League’s aim is to provide clothes to as many of these children as possible. Currently, they have provided clothing to nearly 900 students this school year.
Along with providing clothes to children in need, the organization’s volunteers also go into classrooms to read to students leaving behind books for the children to take home after each visit.
“We’ve also started an early literacy program, trying to help educate parents to understand how important language is and how important it is for them to read to their children,” Newmann said.
Mike Carr, support services coordinator for at-risk students and homeless liaison with Washington County School District, said philanthropic organizations and efforts are so important to fill in the gaps.
“Organizations like Assistance League are invaluable,” Carr said.
Each year the school district receives a grant of $17,000 from Deseret Industries to provide clothing to children, but the money is soon exhausted, Carr said. With four months of school left, it is organizations like Assistance League and Klabanoff’s efforts who make a difference.
“If we didn’t have them I don’t know what we would do quite honestly,” he added. “I have a budget that I can use for Walmart gift cards, but if I were to use them to compensate for what Assistance League does for us, I wouldn’t have anything left for other needs.”
The more than 45 schools in the Washington County School district have on average 44% of its students qualifying for its free and reduced meal program.
Carr said it’s quite deceptive when you look at the wealth of Washington County and compare it to how many children are in need of the basic necessities in life.