Before school started this fall, 1,000 students from 312 struggling families got vouchers to shop for clothes at Target.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul distributed the vouchers to low-income Omahans with a $20,000 grant from Goodfellows, The World-Herald’s charity. The society took over the Back to Basics program from the Holy Family Catholic Church Door Ministry, which had administered it for about 30 years.
Omahan Bonnie Beacom is the program’s new coordinator. As a longtime volunteer with St. Vincent de Paul, she added that unpaid job to her work at the group’s food pantry and other volunteer efforts. She worked with the Door Ministry staff for a year before taking over this year.
Each family was given $20 per student to shop at either the northeast Omaha Target on Sorensen Parkway or the Twin Creek Target in Bellevue for whatever their kids needed most, whether that was socks, underwear, bras or T-shirts.
To find people who needed help, the society consulted with counselors in the Omaha Public Schools and Catholic schools, as well as with people at pantries and social service agencies. The program began in early August and ran through Sept. 1.
Beacom said she didn’t know much about Goodfellows before she took on her new assignment. She was aware that the charity partnered with Omaha social service agencies to help area residents, but that was about it.
In addition to Back to Basics, Goodfellows offers one-time emergency aid for rent, utility deposits and other expenses. The World-Herald pays all administrative costs, so every dollar donated goes directly to those who need it.
“I knew about the good work that (Goodfellows has) done through other organizations, so we felt very, very excited to partner with them at St. Vincent de Paul,” she said.
The grant from Goodfellows yielded an additional blessing this year, Beacom said. When this year’s Back to Basics program ended, 41 gift cards were left over, and there was still a little money on some of the others. She got permission from Goodfellows coordinators to use the $980 surplus on diapers for the St. Vincent de Paul pantry. Taking advantage of a special at Target, she was able to buy 57 cases of diapers, including several in larger sizes that are rarely donated to the agency.
“That was a huge unmet need — a complete godsend, for sure,” she said. “It was so neat to be able to be (at the pantry) when somebody said, ‘You don’t happen to have size 5 diapers,’ and I could say, ‘Yes, I do.’ ”
The woman left “with a big smile on her face,” Beacom said.
In addition to volunteering for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Beacom has donated her time to the Children’s Crisis Center, Youth Emergency Services and people with developmental disabilities, to name a few. She says she feels compelled to help wherever she can.
“I just think that’s the call we all have from God, to help each other out. I’ve been very blessed, and I’m glad I’ve been able to do that.”