Bethlehem House, an Omaha agency that helps pregnant women and new moms, is busier than ever, says Gina Tomes, its family life director.

The organization operates a residence and after-care program for moms who are rebuilding lives after drug abuse, domestic violence, homelessness and other issues. The coronavirus pandemic, with its job losses and uncertainty, threatens to derail those clients, Tomes said.

“They’re just vulnerable when (things like) this happen,” she said. “It’s scary.”

At the same time, expenses are up because the house and assistance program are at capacity, and revenue is down, she said.

Those realities — also occurring at other nonprofits — make Omaha Gives! arguably more important this year than at any time in its eight-year history. A 24-hour fundraiser is set for May 20.

More than one-third of the nonprofits in the Omaha area have reported a loss in operating income since coronavirus erupted in early March, said Donna Kush, executive director of the Omaha Community Foundation, the group that coordinates Omaha Gives!

Many have lower revenue because of canceled events, she said.

That’s true at Bethlehem House. Officials called off a May golf tournament that raises about $35,000, Tomes said. It gets worse: The Humble Lily secondhand clothing store, a reliable revenue stream for Bethlehem House, had to close. Sales from the store account for about $35,000 a month in the agency’s budget.

The picture seems bleak, but Kush is optimistic about this year’s drive.

“We anticipate that we may have more participation this year because people in the community see that the needs are greater than ever,” said Kush, who has been with the foundation about a month.

The drive has raised $49 million in eight years. But the number of donors and raising awareness of the area’s nonprofits is the main goal, Kush said.

To increase the number of donors, the foundation has lowered the minimum contribution from $10 to $1.

Nearly 1,000 nonprofits from Douglas, Sarpy and Pottawattamie Counties are participating in Omaha Gives! Donations on its website are accepted at anytime. Supporters also can set up “cheer pages” on the site to boost their favorite agencies.

Nonprofits will win awards throughout the day of the drive, including drawings and participation prizes.

In addition to raising the stakes for Omaha Gives! COVID-19 also has changed the way nonprofits celebrate the day. They traditionally have hosted live events, but they’re going virtual this year.

The Omaha Area Youth Orchestra, for instance, is putting videos of young musicians online. The executive director of The Nature Conservancy is hosting an online birding event in his backyard.

And the Latino Center of the Midlands will host a virtual happy hour, a way many people have embraced to gather with friends while in isolation.

“I like this one,” Kush said.

Betsie covers a little bit of everything for The World-Herald's Living section, including theater, religion and anything else that might need attention. Phone: 402-444-1267.

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