Giving back to the community comes naturally to Janet and Erwin Emge, and the couple has passed that generous spirit on to their three children. The Emge family started their own nonprofit—The Pooper Troopers—to help out young moms in need by providing much-needed diapers.
It all started three years ago when Janet and Erwin’s three adult children—Justin, Colleen, and Jacob—wanted to change their Christmas tradition from exchanging gifts to giving back to the community.
“The kids told us they would rather adopt a family or do something in the community,” said Janet.
When Janet heard through a friend about a small mission in O’Fallon that helped mothers who were struggling, the family found its new tradition. The mission was always in need of diapers for the children, so the couple—with all three of their children—held their first diaper drive. The family set a goal of collecting 10,000 diapers the first year, and exceeded the goal, collecting more than 12,000. The following year, the family tried to double its first goal and collect 25,000 diapers.
“We collected about 32,000, but we had maxed out their storage space,” said Janet. “We wanted to continue growing and building this.”
So the family started researching nonprofits in the area and found the Crisis Nursery, which offers respite daycare to families in crisis.
“We really liked everything that we saw,” said Janet. “We want to keep building this, and we would love to give them enough diapers for a year.”
Last year, the family set a goal of 50,000 diapers, and yet again the family surpassed the goal collecting more than 72,000 diapers for the Crisis Nursery. The Pooper Troopers recently achieved 501(c) 3 status and the plan for next year is to reach 100,000 diapers, which would be a year’s supply for the Crisis Nursery.
“The kids are so on-board with this,” said Janet. “We have a party in December, and build a Christmas tree from the diapers.”
While this is the present focus of community giving for the family, Janet and Erwin have been involved in the community for decades. Erwin spent 35 years as a volunteer firefighter in O’Fallon.
“It was get up in the middle of the night, go to the scene of a car accident or a fire, come home and clean up and go to work,” said Erwin, who served as an officer and a driver.
“When you see something really bad it makes you appreciate what you have, and come home and hug your wife and kids,” he said. “Also, not to take life lightly, but not to take it too seriously either because it can be gone pretty fast.”
While he retired from the fire department two years ago, Erwin still volunteers his time working in community outreach for the district. Janet sings in the church choir at St. Paul Catholic Church, and served as the interim choir director. The couple is also very active in their church.
In April 2017, the couple—along with about 30 members of St. Paul Catholic Church—travelled into the inner city to help clean up a St. Louis neighborhood.
“It was really cool. The people in the neighborhood were out there helping us. It was just neat,” said Janet. “These people were so appreciative. Because it had gotten more than they could handle…People were coming into the neighborhood and just dumping stuff. It just got out of control.”
The church group brought lunch and dined with neighbors.
“There were a lot of elderly on the street,” said Janet. “These are people who were very proud of their homes, but they couldn’t handle what was happening to their neighborhood. I think it was something that for a lot of us this was outside of our comfort zone, but that was something that was kind of neat about it.”
“We met some great people,” said Erwin.
Over the years, the couple was very involved in the theatre department at St. Dominic, helping with everything from building sets to running sound to helping with make-up and costumes. All three of their children participated in theatre in high school, which is no surprise since their parents met and fell in love in the theatre themselves. It was only fitting that the theatre department would remain a special place in their hearts.
The couple met as high school freshmen at St. Dominic in O’Fallon, but did not start dating until senior year.
“We were both into the musicals and music,” said Janet. “We ran with the same bunch of kids.”
The couple married in April, 1980, and had three children and now have one grandchild, Nate. They just celebrated their 38 th wedding anniversary. The secret to their long-lasting marriage?
“We have a good mix of alone (time) and together (time),” said Janet. “We each have our own interests and things that we do on our own, but I think what works with us is that we do a lot of things together.”
The couple also shares a lot of the same interests—and music continues to be a favorite outlet for the pair. The couple has played in three different bands together over the last 38 years. Most recently Janet sang in the “The Fog” while Erwin played bass guitar.
The couple also loves to build together—finishing the basement on their own or helping renovate spaces in their kids’ homes.
“That’s why I keep her because she would rather go to Home Depot than clothes shopping,” Erwin joked.
“Oh yeah, I love going to hardware stores. There’s a table saw at Lowe’s that we’ve had our eye on for years,” said Janet.
For fun, the couple likes to hike and camp—naming Devil’s Lake in Wisconsin, the Smokey Mountains and Echo Park as a few favorite spots.
“It’s on my bucket list to camp out west and visit Maine during September to see the colors,” said Janet. “But that’s not until after we retire.”
The couple still works full-time, Janet as a surgical nurse at St. Joseph’s Hospital in St. Charles, and Erwin as a Technology Consultant. For now, the couple will continue to serve the community in their off hours—weekends and evenings.
“If you’ve got the time and you’ve got the talent, you get out there and use it,” said Janet. “Don’t be stingy with what God gave you.”