Last Saturday, June 11th, Empower Missouri supporters, coalition members, staff and other guests gathered at the Piper Palm House in St. Louis to honor our six Advocates of the Year. It was wonderful to be back together in person, the first time in a long time for many of us, and it would not have been possible without the support of our sponsors, Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, the Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing and Opportunity Council, Public Design Bureau, and We Are Novella.

Empower Missouri’s work to eradicate poverty in Missouri is only possible through coalition building and advocacy by an incredible group of supporters, and the Advocacy Awards Brunch is an opportunity to highlight a few of that group and celebrate our collective work.

Throughout the morning attendees heard about the incredible work of this group towards increasing access to safety net benefits, reforming outdated and unjust laws, supporting the community through COVID-19 and its economic impacts, and otherwise protecting the most vulnerable members of our community. The accomplishments of each honoree are amazing steps towards ensuring food, shelter, and equal justice under the law for every person in our state, but through the words of each advocate and our presenters, it was clear that they can’t do it alone. It will take all of us, working together to change policies that will change lives for our neighbors living in poverty.

Please join us in wishing congratulations to our six honorees who are helping lead the fight:

Our Affordable Housing Advocate of the Year, Glenn Burleigh, Community Engagement Specialist at the Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing and Opportunity Council, was honored for his commitment to ensuring that the economic impacts of COVID-19 did not force members of our community out of their homes, expanding and enforcing eviction and utility shut off moratoriums during the pandemic.

Our Criminal Justice Advocate of the Year, Missouri Appleseed, was honored for their work spearheading the campaign to start a correctional center nursery program in one of Missouri’s prisons for women. Thanks to them and their partners, including our Criminal Justice Coalition, children born to incarcerated women will now be able to remain in their mothers’ care for up to a full 18 months– and then leave the prison system together.

Our Food Security Advocate of the Year, Katherine Holley, Senior Staff Attorney, Public Benefits Program, Legal Services of Eastern MO, was honored for her efforts to help hundreds of individuals and families obtain SNAP benefits for which they are eligible. She worked tirelessly with partners in the Food Security Coalition to identify barriers to assistance and propose solutions to our state agency, and when collaboration hasn’t worked, she led the charge to file a lawsuit that challenges Missouri’s dysfunctional SNAP application process in the hope of improving access to food for thousands of Missourians.

Local Advocate of the Year, Shana Poole-Jones, Founder of Keep Pushing, Inc., is a force for good in her community of Maplewood. She started small, establishing a mini food pantry to help support her neighbors through the pandemic, but has since gone on to work with the city to adjust ordinances to allow the pantries to open throughout the city. Her organization continues to grow and support her neighbors experiencing food insecurity, and now also works to identify individuals experiencing homelessness and connect them to supports. Shana was recently elected to the Maplewood City Council, where her impact can only expand.

We also honored two Legislative Advocates of the Year. Senator Angela Mosley was honored for her efforts to bring the Restaurant Meals Program to Missouri. She sponsored a bill which would allow individuals on SNAP that cannot access food preparation or storage equipment to use their benefits to purchase prepared meals. Throughout the debates she challenged falsehoods and shared about the realities of life for people living in poverty, and the life-changing benefits of programs like the RMP. Though the bill did not pass this year, we are so grateful for her work and the progress that was made, and optimistic about passing the RMP next year.

Representative Phil Christofanelli was honored for his work to reform outdated HIV-related laws in Missouri. Our HIV Justice Coalition fought for many years to update Missouri’s extremely outdated and medically inaccurate laws pertaining to men and women living with HIV. Representative Christofanelli joined us as a bill sponsor last year, and he was able to shepard the bill across the finish line in a single session. He helped to educate his colleagues on the issue, built bipartisan support for the bill in the House, and spoke passionately about the issue in multiple hearings. Thanks to his leadership, people living with HIV in Missouri are now treated more fairly under the law.

Attendees also heard from some of our coalition members through a brief video.

The partners highlighted represent a fraction of our coalition members across the state, and a growing grassroots movement to end poverty in Missouri. We are so grateful for the partnership and the work of these partners, our six Advocates of the Year and to every member and supporter of Empower Missouri. We know that it is possible to end poverty in Missouri, and with your help, we can do it!

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