By TIM ROWDEN
It started with a hand-lettered sign “We love you” posted in a window at St. Louis Children’s Hospital for the union members working on the campus renewal project at Barnes-Jewish and Children’s Hospital.
IBEW Local 1 apprentice Tony Scarpace responded with a sign of his own “We love you, too! Get well soon!” hung on a banner outside of his work site.
Thus began a relationship that culminated earlier this month with IBEW Local 1 donating $4,484 in toys and cash to put toys in the hands and smiles on the faces of children at the hospital.
Fellow Local 1 apprentice Owen Wells had the idea of buying toys for the kids.
The initial plan was to collect from Local 1 apprentices on the job, but that grew to include all Local 1 electricians on the expansion project, and even a few from other job sites, as word of the collection spread.
Members working for Sachs Electric Company, Guarantee Electrical Company, TD4 Electrical LLC, BRK Electrical Contractors LLC and Pearl Street Electric all jumped in to help
Local 1 apprentice Mike Kozlowski donated a battery-powered drill he won for graduating at the top of his class. The drill was raffled off for close to $1,000
“We all have children in our lives that are very special to us, whether they’re ours or not ours,” Scarpace said. “It was going to be one week of collecting. Then it turned into two, then three.”
Local 1 Steward Josh Peniston helped spread the word with Local 1 Business Representative Dave Roth.
On Sept. 1, at the end of their shift, Local 1 electricians gathered at Children’s Hospital with $2,842 worth of toys they had purchased the previous weekend and a check for $2,000.
Peniston is quick to give credit to the apprentices and brother and sister electricians who dug deep to make the donation a reality.
“The apprentices brought it to our attention to do something nice to help out kids,” Peniston said. “So we started a collection up and it just snowballed from there.”
The result was greater than they could have hoped for he said.
“Once they word got out, the outpouring of workers that wanted to get on board was just phenomenal,” Peniston said. “We had a $10 minimum donation and that wasn’t good enough. We had people who gave $20 and $100.
“None of this would have happened without them,” Peniston said of his brother and sister electricians gathered at Children’s Hospital for the donation.
“The vast majority of the guys that donated, I would say 98 percent of them were from this job There’s 350 to 400 guys on this job. It’s really a testament to them. Those guys made it happen. Whether they donated money or went shopping that Saturday. They all had a hand in it. Once the word got out people just wanted to be a part of it.
“It’s really gratifying to know that people do care and want to be part of something bigger than themselves.”
Peniston adeded: “I hope other people take what we’ve done here and take the ball and run with it. Just helping these kids, it tugs at your heart strings.”
And it helps give sick kids more than a momentary smile.
“Having toys and activities donated to the patients here allows them to feel normal,” said Jenny Brandt, a Child Life specialist at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.
Child Life Services Manger Jill Houser-Malan said donations support a variety of programs for the patients, from birthday presents to getting a new toy to ease a particularly bad day of tests to winning prizes on a closed-circuit game show the Child Life Services team produces for the patients who can’t leave their rooms.
To donate, visit stlouischildrens.org/.