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On a rainy day in late June of 2019, more than 200 teachers in St. Louis were parked in their cars waiting for the KidSmart Pop Up Shop to open. Despite a downpour of rain and the fact that classes were not in session, the teachers still lined up – eager to receive boxes filled with hundreds of school supplies provided by donors and volunteers at KidSmart. The teachers walked briskly to the mobile donation center and back to their vehicles, careful not to ruin their new supplies in the torrents of rain, each educator making the dash with a joyful smile on their face.

But why would teachers wait happily in a summer rainstorm for a bag of supplies? Because 90,000 children in St. Louis cannot afford the most basic school supplies. Teachers all across the country dip into their own paychecks to provide for students in their classrooms. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 94% of public-school teachers bought school supplies that they were not reimbursed for. The annual average amount spent per teacher was $479.

Luckily, teachers in St. Louis can rely on an organization called KidSmart, which provides free school supplies to students and teachers at 161 qualifying area schools. The mission of KidSmart is simple but powerful: to empower children in need to succeed by providing free essential tools for learning. Armed with the belief that education eradicates poverty, the volunteers and employees at KidSmart provide an effective means for impoverished children to chase their dreams.

“At some schools we know that children are doing homework on paper towels. These children want to succeed, but many don’t even have the basic tools to access education,” said Jill Laux, Director of Charitable Giving at KidSmart. “We don’t only supply the necessary tools for learning, we provide these children the confidence to succeed.”

A local St. Louis educator was inspired to create KidSmart after learning about an organization called A Gift for Teaching based in Orlando. Since creating KidSmart, the company has orchestrated the distribution of $60 million in school supplies to children and teachers in St. Louis and the surrounding areas. The organization is the only free supplier of educational materials in Missouri.

When asked what it felt like to take the leap from teacher to President and CEO, KidSmart’s founder Jennifer Miller admitted she had little business experience. “The first two years I really felt like a hamster on a wheel. But as a former teacher, I think I was actually well-prepared for the business world. Educators really are entrepreneurs. You manage your classroom, you do a lot of strategic planning, you manage a budget, you manage expectations, and you have to be creative. Although I had no background in business, there’s a ton of crossover that allowed me to build KidSmart.”

“KidSmart is built on a community-wide collaboration. We absolutely need involved people like Rich Ropp (Jet Linx St. Louis Base President) and companies like Jet Linx who help. We have 90,000 kids in St. Louis that are living in poverty.” Miller paused and reiterated, “That’s enough to fill Busch Stadium two times over. It’s mind-boggling to sit at a baseball game and think about the number of children who need help.”

As of 2019, KidSmart equips 10,000 children with free school supplies each week and donates an estimated $38,000 worth of supplies on a daily basis. Distribution of free school supplies has proven to be effective on the well-being of children. According to the Kids in Need Foundation, a KidSmart national partner, there is a 75% increase in self-esteem associated when students have access to quality school supplies.

The average cost to equip a child with supplies for back to school is $100. To a low-income family with parents working multiple jobs and no access to transportation, school supplies are simply not a reality. “I’ve seen how unhappy kids are when they come to school without supplies. Self-esteem is such a huge part of success. For kids to feel defeated before they enter the classroom, that’s a tragedy and a missed opportunity for our youth,” Laux explained. “We don’t want any child to have that obstacle to learning. With adequate supplies they may focus on being kids, focus on learning, and doing their personal best to learn and succeed.”

KidSmart has a magical ability to stretch donations by five times their original value. “A $5 donation can be leveraged into $25 in supplies distributed. The return on investment that KidSmart can provide is made possible by corporate partnerships, grants, and donations from individuals. More than 100 local businesses host internal back-to-school supply drives, and that brings in truckloads of supplies for the kids we serve.” KidSmart also has connections with national partners, through the Kids in Need Foundation, such as Scholastic Books, Ticonderoga Pencils, and Joann Fabric stores, to also help equip kids in St. Louis and across the country. “Plus, we are very fortunate to be able to rely on a small army of volunteers for help with distribution,” Laux noted.


Joe Buck and Michelle Beisner Buck attend Kidsmart fundraiser with Rich Ropp and wife Melissa Ropp

Michelle Beisner Buck and Joe Buck (center), pictured with Jet Linx St. Louis Base President Rich Ropp and wife Melissa.



Jet Linx St. Louis was host to KidSmart’s annual fundraising event at the St. Louis private terminal on August 29. Back to School with Joe & Michelle Buck! is Kidsmart’s signature fundraising event each year. It attracts a variety of local St. Louis celebrities, including Jet Linx friend and client and event host Joe Buck, the renowned sports announcer. Buck has been the event host for the past 14 years. This year, for the 15th anniversary, he was joined by his celebrity wife, Michelle Beisner Buck.

The team at Jet Linx St. Louis was inspired and excited to transform their hangar into a beautiful venue to host this critical fundraising event – one that positively impacts education for thousands of students throughout the community.

“Joe is not only a very well-known and respected St. Louisan, he is known nationally and globally for his sportscasting talent,” Ropp explained. “Joe’s popularity brings great value to KidSmart’s event and to their mission, as he makes it a lively evening.”

Buck understands how important the evening is for kids in the St. Louis area. “I am blown away that kids don’t even have the most basic supplies to have a chance in school,” he said. “I am happy to put my name on anything that gives these young people what they need to sit in a classroom and learn. I have been so fortunate throughout my career, and it is such a blessing to be involved,” said Buck.

Buck first became involved when KidSmart’s founder reached out to him on a whim. “Once she explained what the night and their organization was for, I was hooked. When they named the event after me, I couldn’t say no,” Buck beamed.

“Many attendees and event planners have commented on what a cool, chic, and fun event space Jet Linx St. Louis is. The Jet Linx hangar offers a blank canvas to basically construct any type of event with the bonus of having an active airport and spectacular sunsets as the venue backdrop,” Ropp shared. “Anytime Jet Linx is able to support important philanthropical causes that involve our clients we are happy to do so. Hosting an event like this will allow us to build relationships within the community, which is the first step in helping to effect change.”

The back-to-school event with Joe and Michelle Buck is truly valuable to KidSmart, as Laux explained, “This is our one big fundraiser for the whole year, and our amazing partnerships enable KidSmart to generate about $1 million towards school supplies, for back to school time, alone.” The entertaining aspect of the evening attracts a lot of guests. “It’s not a typical banquet hall gala. It’s out on the tarmac with the private jets. It’s a high class, high quality, exceptional experience.”

KidSmart was eager to return to Jet Linx, as a previous event held there proved to be the most successful fundraiser in the history of the event. “The local team at Jet Linx couldn’t have been more supportive or gracious to us. In fact, they were the ones that reached out to ask if they could host the event again,” the founder gushed. “Jet Linx is a perfect example of a corporate partner who is dedicated to supporting a good cause that benefits the entire community. We try to make it a fun date night and the venue is a critical part of it. Jet Linx is a perfect setting – it’s an interesting place where people enjoy spending time.”

The event on August 29 began with cocktails at sunset. Guests socialized amidst luxury cars and private jets, setting the mood for a festive evening. Next, locally famous chefs were brought in to create gourmet appetizers. “Joe and Michelle Buck hosted the name-that-tune style game. Corporate sponsors were allowed to form teams and compete. Local celebrities, such as former Cardinal and Blues players to local TV personalities, joined in the fun. It was a high-energy event,” Laux explained.

More than 300 attendees came out in support of KidSmart’s cause, raising $300,000 in just a few hours. “A $10,000 donation can help to support a small school,” Laux explained. “Money raised at this event will reverberate through our community for a long time. We have Jet Linx to thank for providing a perfect setting to promote giving.”

“This year’s KidSmart event was another great example of our commitment to support our local community,” Ropp concluded.