By Kaitlin Karins
As the holiday season approaches, refugees and low-income families rely on the Center for People in Need in order to celebrate.
And the center relies on volunteers to make sure that happens.
No one knows this better than Barb Solomon, the event and volunteer coordinator for the center. Solomon, who has been with the center for just over a year, has been organizing community resources for some time now.
“I used to be a stay-at-home mom and heard about a story about an Irving Middle School student who was bullied for wearing the same clothes everyday. I ended up meeting with the school and built a closet and filled it with hand-me-down clothes,” she said. “It was super successful.”
Today she oversees 11 closets throughout Lincoln Public Schools’ middle schools and high schools, a program called Clothesline.
When clothes showed up that were not appropriate for middle school or high school students, Solomon would bring them to the Center For People in Need, where she met executive director Beatty Brasch.
“There was a position open with the center, and my daughter was old enough that she didn’t need me to be home anymore, so I accepted and I have been helping to organize events like Giving Thanksgiving since,” Solomon said.
Giving Thanksgiving is an annual event that helps ensure that low-income families have a chance to have a holiday meal. On November 22 through 24, the center, in partnership with the Food Bank of Lincoln and local grocery stores, helped provide clients with a chance to make that happen.
For many of the clients who come through the center for events like these, something as simple as peanut butter and bread can have a huge impact on their lives.
“What do you do when you rely on a free school lunch everyday in order to eat, and now that it is Thanksgiving break and there is no school? For a lot of these families, if it wasn’t for the center, they wouldn’t have food. Isn’t that awful?” Brasch said.
Along with the bread and peanut butter, volunteers provided clients with canned cranberries, green beans, potatoes, carrots, soup and a voucher for the family to get a turkey or ham at a local grocery store.
“In addition to the food, we look at the warehouse and see what do we have a lot of—it might be pillows or toothpaste. These events are a great chance for us to get these supplies to someone who needs it,” Solomon said.
Volunteers who are not stocking food or household supplies are handing out numbers at the doors so clients know when it’s their turn to head through the lines, handing out surveys, bagging food and collecting carts from outside.
“In order for the event to run smoothly we need about 80 to 90 volunteers per shift,” Solomon said. “Each day of the event is made up of about four shifts which last about two hours. It’s a big job just to coordinate the volunteers.”
Lynn Conley, who volunteers year round at the center and at many other community events, believes that her giving nature comes from her father, who was very kind to the homeless in Omaha before his death.
“I can still remember going to my father’s funeral, and seeing all of the homeless people there. They remembered him from riding in the ambulance with him and because he was always kind to them,” Conley said.
She learned from a young age that all people have their struggles, but she says the thing people need from her most is just for her to listen.
“Everyone has a story and they just want to be able to tell theirs and know that someone is listening.
“I am listening.”