Our State Motto: Salus populi suprema lex esto, “Let the welfare of the people be the supreme law.”

Like a vein through the body, the Missouri River stretches across the country and Missouri, carrying water to cities and towns, and eventually, the ocean. Like those vital veins, the health of the Missouri River is imperative.

About 43 percent of Missourians get their drinking water from the Missouri River, including most of the Kansas City and St. Louis areas.

Missouri River Relief, a not-for-profit organization, keeps the state’s largest natural resource healthy by teaching the community about its importance. River Relief was founded in 2001 by a small group in mid-Missouri who saw the river in need of some care and assistance and an eagerness from community members to get involved. The organization takes a hands-on approach to connecting the community to the river, namely through the river cleanups that bring volunteers out to pick up trash on different stretches of the river.

From October 2001 through December 2019, River Relief hauled off 940 tons of trash from 1,287 miles of the river. The organization goes all over the state to clean the river and outside of it, too. They choose a ten-mile stretch for every cleanup and begin their work. River cleanup events are big social gatherings and typically draw between 200 and 300 volunteers. River Relief also hosts educational events for adults in their “Big Muddy Speaker Series,” a series of free presentations by experts in natural resource fields. In addition, River Relief partners with Columbia Public Schools to provide kids with field trips to the river and hosts kayak and canoe races. The annual “Race to the Dome,” a kayak and canoe race starting in either Hartsburg or Providence and ending in Jefferson City, is scheduled for October this year. River Relief also has a film festival slated in February, hosted at the Blue Note in Columbia.

River Relief director Steve Schnarr grew up near the river and became involved with the organization after a summer canoe trip changed his perspective on the body of water. The vastness and unfamiliarity of the river prior to setting out made the trip seem “terrifying and impossible.” However, once they were on the river, Steve says he became fascinated with the water.

“I think in Missouri it’s really easy to take for granted how lucky we are to be blessed with so much freshwater,” Steve says. “And I do think people are really waking up to what an important resource it is.”

Jacqueline Acton is a crew volunteer for river cleanups and—as Steve describes her—a part of the dedicated “lifeblood” of River Relief that makes the events run smoothly. Jacqueline has been volunteering with River Relief since 2005. These days she leads the safety tent, advising volunteers how to be safe on the water, and giving the low-down on the expectations of the project. To boost morale and “wake everyone up in the morning,” she leads a cheer, “When I say Missouri, you say River!”

Jacqueline’s daughter, Eva, grew up with River Relief. At age ten, she tells volunteers about different trash contests, such as the most useful trash, trash that looks like an animal, most fashionable trash, etc. Eva also teaches volunteers about the dangers of flying carp, an excitable fish living in some stretches of the Missouri River.

“She’s a great little public speaker,” Jacqueline says.

River Relief uses real-life experience with nature to illustrate the importance of its mission. Once you get a taste of the river, the point becomes clear.

“We try to create unique and powerful experiences where people can explore places along the river they would never have the opportunity to visit, and to see the river from a new perspective,” Steve says. “It really changes them.”

Learn how you can get involved at RiverRelief.org.