Robert Wesley and his fellow Omaha firefighters at Station 43 were making lunch after a busy morning Wednesday when the doorbell rang. Wesley opened the door and found a happy Christmas Day surprise: a man and three children bearing boxes of cookies and a message.
“We just wanted to say we appreciate what you do,” the man, Ari Kohen, told Wesley. Especially on Christmas Day, Kohen explained, but the whole year, too.
The family at the door of Station 43 was participating in Operation Grateful Goodies. Jewish people from several Omaha congregations and other organizations baked, boxed and delivered cookies to firefighters, police officers, emergency medical workers and military members.
About 20 people volunteered to bake in preparation for Wednesday. About 60 volunteers deployed to deliver. They picked up the treats at Temple Israel and hit the streets, taking a total of 161 boxes of cookies to 65 fire and police stations, hospitals, urgent care centers and Offutt Air Force Base.
“We are saying thank you to people who save lives,” said Linda Saltzman, chairperson of Operation Grateful Goodies.
It was the second annual event. The people of Beth El Synagogue, of which Saltzman is a member, originated Grateful Goodies. They invited the wider Jewish community of Omaha to participate. People embraced the idea. Members of Beth Israel, Temple Israel, Chabad House and the Jewish Federation of Omaha joined people from Beth El.
Christmas is a quiet day for many people in the Jewish community, with most businesses and schools closed for the holiday, Saltzman said.
“We imagine it’s difficult for people who have to be at work to be away from their families on Christmas Day when they celebrate Christmas,” she said. “This is just a thank-you for the lifesavers, for the people who serve us, especially today when they’re away from their families, but also all year.”
Sandy Nogg, a Temple Israel member, wore a flickering snowman necklace as she picked up her allotment of goodies and got her directions from Saltzman.
Why did she pitch in?
“Because it’s Christmas, and this is what Jews should be doing on Christmas, celebrating with our neighbors,” Nogg said.
Ari Kohen, whose family participated last year as well, called it “a nice thing to do and a lot of fun.”
“For the kids, it’s a nice experience for them to go to a police station or a fire station and hand out cookies,” he said.
The Kohen kids — Judah, 9; Talia, 7; and Daniel, 2 — fortified themselves at the bagel table at Temple Israel before heading out on their appointed rounds: the Omaha Police Department Northwest Precinct near 103rd and Fort Streets and Fire Station 43 next door.
The lights weren’t on and nobody was home at the police station. The family left the cookies at the door, although Talia worried that a snake or other critter might beat the officers to the treats.
At the fire station, the family was as happy to see Wesley as he was to see them. It had been a busy day already, he told them. The firefighters had made four emergency runs, including to a car accident. Wesley thanked the family for their words as well as the sugary treats, which he said would make a nice dessert after lunch.
As the family drove away, the firefighter said that was a very nice thing to do, and he really appreciated it.
“It’s just nice to have people think about you on days like this, especially when they have a lot going on in their own lives,” Wesley said. “Very nice. Refreshing.”
He paused, then continued.
“People underestimate how far a thought can go. It’s the thought that counts.”