In 1983, the Junior League of St. Louis and the Coalition of 100 Black Women made it their mission to create a 24-hour shelter for children whose parents face crises and have no one else to turn to. They wanted a safe place for kids in the metro area that didn’t involve the state and family court.
For more than 30 years, the St. Louis Crisis Nursery gives kids a roof over their heads, cozy beds to sleep in, clothing, warm meals and some medical attention. CEO DiAnne Mueller has been with the organization for 25 years. She tells Missourinet the nursery serves some 7,000 kids annually.
“When they stay with us, everything is provided for them. We provide a therapeutic environment. We have an art therapist, a play therapist that works with the kids on whatever crisis their family was dealing with,” says Mueller.
Crises could include homelessness, domestic violence, an overwhelmed parent or a family member going into the hospital. The organization helps mostly kids ages five and younger. The age group is the most likely to be harmed or killed by their caregiver or parent.
The nursery has a 24-hour help line – about 64% of the calls received involve parents ending up taking their children to the nursery.
Its shelter and outreach services allow about 99% of its children to stay in their natural family home. That figures comes with hard work by the organization’s staff and volunteers to constantly seek donations of things like money, baby formula and diapers. According to Mueller, formula is the number one item that women who are living in poverty will shoplift when their children are infants.
“Because it’s just so awful to have a hungry baby and not be able to feed their infants,” says Mueller.
The nursery cares for children ages birth to 12 years – about 86% are kids under the age of 5. Mueller says that means diapers are another key need for the nursery and for its outreach services that aims to keep families together.
“Some of our young moms, again because of the poverty that they’re struggling with, we find that they at times are using disposable diapers for two or three days. As you can imagine, that causes diaper rashes and the infant is very unhappy,” says Mueller.
The organization has grown through the years from running one nursery to five of them today in the St. Louis region.