Tegan Reed, executive director of The Life House, still has that valentine – the red crayon drawing of a heart, the carefully-placed Minion stickers, and a young girl’s handwritten message: “You are the best.”
“She handed it to me with a huge smile and a big hug. It really struck me because, to her, we were putting food on her family’s table, and we were helping her baby sister have diapers so she could be clean, happy and healthy,” Reed says.
A dual force for good in the community, The Life House serves as “Omaha’s diaper bank” and a neighborhood food pantry. In the metro area, one in five children is at risk for hunger, Reed says, and one in three families struggles to afford clean diapers.
“The term ‘diaper need’ was new to me when we started this program five years ago,” she says. “If a family is struggling with food insecurity, they’re most likely struggling with diaper need as well.”
Two partner churches – Prairie Lane Church and Westwood Church – came together to launch The Life House (originally LIFEhouse Partnership) in September 2014. It became a 501(c)3 nonprofit about a year later.
“We serve people from all over Omaha,” Reed says. “Last year, we served families from 11 counties and 48 ZIP codes.”
Located at 11806 Prairie Lane Drive, the outreach is open the third Tuesday (6–8 p.m.) and the fourth Saturday (10 a.m.–noon) of each month. The pantry currently is operating via drive-thru service to minimize contact and maximize social distancing in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Ever since that first month in operation – when The Life House served six families – growth has been dramatic. In 2019, the nonprofit provided more than 243,400 diapers and 81,400 meals.
“In February, through our diaper bank, we served over 400 children and gave about 25,000 diapers. Through our food pantry, we served about 530 individuals and gave about 8000 meals to those individuals,” Reed says.
To extend its reach, The Life House recently started a pilot program with Heartland Hope Mission in South Omaha. Diapers are distributed there on Tuesdays (6:30 to 7:30 p.m.), Thursdays (1:30 to 4 p.m.) and Saturdays (9:30 a.m. to noon). The Life House hopes to open a diaper bank location in North Omaha in the fall.
Reed says collaboration makes expansion possible. The Life House is the only organization in Nebraska partnered with the National Diaper Bank Network, which facilitates bulk diaper buying and learning from other diaper banks.
Prairie Lane Church and Westwood Church continue to play “a huge role in what we do today,” Reed says. Other churches, foundations and corporations, including Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska, offer crucial support as well.
Reed, who served as a founding board member and lead volunteer, was the nonprofit’s first paid staff member. It has since hired a part-time program manager.
“Other than that, it’s extremely dedicated volunteers that make this organization run,” Reed says.
Anyone interested in joining the volunteer corps or donating diapers, food or funds can visit thelifehouseomaha.org/volunteer.
The “Christ inspired” goal is to end diaper need in greater Omaha and help families who struggle with food insecurity. That hand-crafted valentine reminds Reed – they’re making an impact and “this young girl wanted to tell us in her own way.”
“Faces of Fearless” is a storytelling series from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska, celebrating people living their best lives and inspiring others to do the same.
COVID-19: NOTE FROM BLUE CROSS AND BLUE SHIELD OF NEBRASKA We are here to make sure members are cared for. View the latest at NebraskaBlue.com/Coronavirus