OMAHA, Neb. – One of the metro’s busiest homeless shelters is not letting the pandemic stand in the way of serving up a Christmas meal, but it does look a lot different this year.
“It just warms my heart, and everyone seems to be in a good mood like I am,” said Jackson Speece, who’s been volunteering at the Open Door Mission Christmas Day for more than six years. “I’m a morning person so it’s just kind of fun to do it that way as well.”
There are typically more than 100 volunteers at the shelter on Christmas, but this year, because of COVID-19 precautions, there are 10.
“We would be serving our guests at their table and they’d be putting in an order like a restaurant,” said Rafael Hernando, one of Open Door Mission’s chefs. “But today we’re just doing buffet style.”
No matter how they are served, the guests are grateful. “I really appreciate them a lot, and love them dearly,” said Henry Gagne. “And sometimes you see little kids helping out and that just touches my heart so much.”
Whether it’s dozens or just a handful of volunteers their presence goes a long way.
“Just that interaction with another person who genuinely cares on Christmas is so, so important,” said Pat McKernan, Men’s Director, Open Door Mission.
When asked if it’s nice to be here for Christmas, Henry Gagne responded: “Amen, better than being outside in the cold, and getting a hot breakfast.”
Some of the guests have been without a home for longer than others.
“I’ve been on the streets for a long time in and out of places,” said Mark Lorenzen. “It’s probably been about 10 years since I’ve had a decent Christmas.”
“It’s hard you know,” said volunteer, Eleanor Speece. “You get to hear their stories and it makes you very, very for what you have.”
All the volunteers, making the best of Christmas Day, despite this pandemic. “Definitely a lot of different,” said Jackson Speece. “But more involved, but I guess it’s kind of nice that way, more personable, so it’s great.”
Like homeless shelters across the Metro, the Open Door Mission will have to wait a bit longer before receiving the COVID vaccine, along with other vulnerable populations. They have their numbers into Douglas County, requesting more than 900 hundred doses of the vaccine for their guests, and nearly 650 for staff and volunteers.