Retail worker Cameron Covyeau was worried. Her hours had been cut because of the coronavirus outbreak, and she wasn’t sure that she could continue to pay rent at the stay-sober home she shares with other women.
University of Nebraska at Omaha professor Jacqui Carnes was feeling blessed. She and her husband, Tom, a Realtor, still had full-time jobs, making the pandemic little more than an inconvenience. They decided to divide their stimulus check from the government to help people who were struggling.
Their stories converge in encounters with The World Herald’s Goodfellows, a charity that offers one-time emergency aid for struggling area residents. Goodfellows is known for its end-of-year campaigns, but it doesn’t go dormant on Jan. 1.
As the pandemic deepened, Goodfellows Executive Director Sue Violi took action.
“I thought, why not remind people that Goodfellows does work all year-round,” she said, “and that with people losing their jobs and getting their hours cut, the agency is there to help?”
She ran a series of World-Herald ads in April and waited. The ads — and the effort — were a warmup for Goodfellows’ participation in Omaha Gives, the Omaha Community Foundation’s annual 24-hour online fundraising blast. It starts at midnight on May 20.
Violi had no idea what to expect.
By the end of the month, donors had given about $30,000. The average take in non-campaign months is $5,000. The total since March 1 is $45,551. Last year, March and April gifts to the charity were a little more than $15,000.
Carnes and her husband were among those April 2020 donors, giving $400. She saw the ad as she and her husband were having conversations about what to do with their stimulus money.
“We decided that we would divide it into big chunks and give it to organizations that helped people who needed it so much more than we did,” she said. “We wanted it to be local, and we wanted it to be an organization where 100% of it went to people in need.”
Covyeau, who has been drug- and alcohol-free for almost a year, is one of those people, though she’s working hard not to be. She heard about Goodfellows at Oxford House, a support home for people recovering from addiction.
“We celebrate recovery every day, go to (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings, do book studies,” she said. “It’s a place where we can be there for each other.”
Her substance abuse began when her young daughter died and persisted for about three years. Public records show that she had addiction-related arrests.
She said she decided to get clean because she remembered how much she enjoyed her previous life. She went through treatment, then moved into Oxford House.
“I just wanted to get back on the right track,” she said.
The coronavirus threw her a curve, but it didn’t derail her. She asked for two weeks’ rent from Goodfellows and received enough to cover a month.
“I felt very blessed that they gave me more than I asked for,” she said.
She is now the president of fundraising for her Oxford House chapter, which consists of at least three houses within a certain radius. She wants to make counseling with Oxford House her career and plans to take classes to achieve her goal.
In a very real way, the Carneses contributed to her potential success. Covyeau said if she hadn’t been able to stay at Oxford House, she would have had to return to her former residence. She’s certain that she would have relapsed there.
She’s known as a “seasoned” member of her Oxford House community, which means that she mentors newcomers. She chairs meetings at the house and is involved in other governance, and new residents look up to her, she said.
“So their donation not only helped me, it helped a house full of girls as well,” she said of donors like Tom and Jacqui Carnes.
Violi said Goodfellows had never done a separate fundraising push outside of its regular campaign. She was gratified at the response. Other people said they were using part of their stimulus checks; some donated in honor of health care personnel and other essential workers; and one donor, perhaps a teacher, wanted to honor the class of 2020.
Now Violi is turning her attention to Omaha Gives. The World-Herald has been a sponsor since the fundraising effort’s beginning, and she’s an enthusiastic supporter.
“The value of Omaha Gives is that people can see what we can do in one day and see how generous the community is,” she said.
You can count the Carneses among that number. Jacqui said they also gave stimulus money to the Open Door Mission and the Food Bank for the Heartland and put a little aside to give big tips when they feel comfortable enough to return to restaurants.
She said they will definitely give to Goodfellows again as well.
“There’s never a lack of need,” she said.The World-Herald’s Goodfellows fund through the years