"I never thought it would happen to me"

Roosevelt Wolf Jr. grew up helping others, and never expected to be the one needing help.

Roosevelt Wolf Jr. had a job lined up.

With experience in heating and air conditioning, he was looking forward to getting back to work.

Then the prospective employer received the results of Wolf’s physical, which showed that he has kidney disease and is on dialysis. That was enough to cost him that chance, he said.

The 43-year-old gets by on disability now. But it’s not easy; rent takes more than half of his monthly disability check. So when he fell behind on health care premiums, he had to let the rent slide.

That’s where the generosity of World-Herald readers came into play. Wolf’s landlord received a one-time, $500 payment from Goodfellows, The World-Herald’s charity. That was enough to help Wolf with his December rent, he said, and straighten out his finances.

Wolf was connected to Goodfellows through a phone call to the United Way of the Midlands’ 211 hotline.

“I grew up giving to the United Way,” he said. “I never thought it would happen to me.”

Working with United Way and Goodfellows has been a positive experience, Wolf said.

“They listened to me,” he said. “They were concerned for my welfare.”

Over the past year, Goodfellows has helped more than 2,870 adults and children who have nowhere else to turn with emergency assistance. The requirements for assistance are straightforward: People must be in crisis, and they can receive help only once.

Most Goodfellows payments — more than $445,000 in total so far this year — are made directly to a landlord or utility.

The charity also has provided holiday meal vouchers to more than 4,200 people.

“The generosity of World-Herald readers continues to amaze me,” said Sue Violi, the program’s executive director. “We receive donations as small as $1.07 and as large as $37,000.”

[Read more: 'Tight-knit' Omaha South High staff make Goodfellows fundraising fun]

So far this year, about 1,555 donors have given a total of about $580,000 to Goodfellows. The holiday fund drive runs through Dec. 31, but people can make donations any time of year.

“Although we raise most of our funds during the holiday campaign, the need for assistance is year-round,” Violi said.

All money donated to Goodfellows goes directly to help someone. None is kept by The World-Herald to cover its expenses, and none is paid to the social service agencies for their work. Twelve agencies help Goodfellows determine who is eligible to receive monetary aid, meal vouchers, school clothing or other types of assistance.

Among those donating this year were Julie and Bob Rosinski of Omaha.

“If we won’t support our own city, nobody else is going to do that for us,” Julie Rosinski said. “We have to take care of our own people — and these are our own people.”

As Violi said, donations come in all sizes. A group of poker-playing buddies from Omaha’s Beth El Synagogue donated $18 to Goodfellows. Why that amount? In the Jewish faith, $18 is the traditional amount donated to worthy causes. The letter that starts the word “charity” is the 18th letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

High medical bills are one of the major reasons many metro area residents — people like Roosevelt Wolf — find themselves struggling financially.

For others, mistakes in their past continue to haunt them. Latisha, 25, can’t find a permanent, full-time job. The reason: a felony from her younger years when she got mixed up with the wrong guy and drugs.

“Life’s tough. You never know what she’s going to throw at you,” she said.

She’s put that life behind her, but it’s been tough to get past it.

Latisha works temporary jobs to pay the bills — from ripping up carpet to housekeeping and detailing cars. Even that’s not enough, and she’s not able to buy health care.

“I’m just trying to stay healthy,” she said.

When money got tight between temporary jobs, Latisha fell behind on rent. Goodfellows paid her landlord $500.

“You guys were a great help,” Latisha said. “My back was pretty much against the wall. I didn’t have another option.”

Nancy Gaarder helps cover public safety and weather events as an editor on The World-Herald's breaking news desk. Follow her on Twitter @gaarder. Phone: 402-444-1102.

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