Though it's a cold month in the year-round struggle to serve the neediest, December brings warmth to those on the front lines of the effort.
Take Friday, for instance.
At the Siena-Francis House homeless shelter, Omaha's largest, development director Tim Sully walked over to the loading dock. Like the Magi on camels at the manger, people in SUVs have been traveling to the dock bearing gifts — cans of food, Christmas presents, toilet paper, shampoo, clothing.
It happens all year at many such places, this parade, not just people bearing stuff, but also volunteers — members of many churches, Kiwanis clubs, college students and Boy Scouts — coming to serve and prepare meals.
Without the donations of time, goods and money, the shelter couldn't keep its doors open, Sully said.
At the dock of the north downtown shelter Friday, he ran into a family of four he happened to know.
“They were dropping off blankets,” Sully said. “They had made kid-size blankets and brought them down so kids in the shelter would have them.”
Meanwhile, in South Omaha, Del Bomberger sat in his office at the Stephen Center homeless shelter, surrounded by stacks of presents: dolls, books, 15 scooters, games, puzzles and so on.
On Saturday, 20 people in the center's HERO addiction recovery program “shopped” in the office for presents for their combined 45 children.
“Each kid will probably get four or five Christmas presents out of there,” said Bomberger, the shelter's CEO.
That's in addition to the gifts that churches, companies, other organizations and individuals have given to families in the Stephen Center's emergency shelter that they adopted for Christmas — and the donated gloves, hats and other warm clothes that will become presents Tuesday for the men in the shelter.
Generous people make similar donations to the Salvation Army and other charities that serve the needy.
And of course that's all in addition to the year-end, and year-round, monetary donations that keep nonprofit organizations afloat. For many organizations, a substantial portion of that money comes from the United Way. In the Omaha metropolitan area, the United Way of the Midlands completed its 2012 annual campaign with a record $23.1 million raised.
Seeing people come in with presents is “warm and fuzzy, good-feeling kind of stuff,” Bomberger said. “Money's critical, but it's really heartwarming to see people thinking of people in such a personal way.”
Speaking of warmth, when the Stephen Center was out of power Wednesday night through Thursday afternoon, scheduled volunteers showed up just the same — including a Creighton University law professor who, as he regularly has for years, stayed overnight in the shelter and did the hourly fire safety checks that are required each night, as the snow piled up outside and the temperature dropped inside.
In all this giving, much is received, on both ends of the equation.
“The real benefit of philanthropy is less about who receives it than who gives it,” said associate professor Angela Eikenberry, a philanthropy expert at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. “We are more fully human when we give.”
Contact the writer: 402-444-1057, email@example.com