As president and CEO of Open Door Mission
, Candace Gregory heads up the nonprofit with equal parts enthusiasm and kindheartedness. The Omaha, Nebraska-based gospel rescue mission provides more than 800 beds and serves more than 2,000 hot, nutritious meals to the hungry each day. “We also provide homeless prevention programs to those struggling to make ends meet, empowering them to remain in their own homes,” she adds. In December 2015 alone, Open Door served more than 10,000 families through its programs.
Because of the mission’s close proximity to the 300,000-sq.-ft. CenturyLink Center
, groups meeting in Omaha can volunteer time and donate needed items to the organization. Open Door has recently partnered with groups including Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Eli Lilly and Company, Kiewit, Kiwanis, Lincoln Financial Group and Werner Enterprises. Here, Gregory discusses volunteer and giveback opportunities at Open Door Mission, and how meeting groups can get involved.
The mission is only 3 miles from the convention center. Do you partner with groups meeting there?
Not only have the groups that come and go chosen [to collaborate with] us, but the center itself recommends us to people coming into our community. We get leftover food donations and pick up there quite often. We’ve partnered with several groups over the years. The Pheasants Forever
organization came in and did its national conference there, and the day before they brought volunteers and their products and served the evening meal.
Do groups often volunteer their time?
Many groups collect items. For instance, the Women of Faith
conference collected canned goods. Sometimes time permits them to come and volunteer, like the Executive Women International
group that brought in hundreds of women from all over the state.
What is the mission’s ideal number of volunteers?
We can serve one volunteer or we can serve 1,000 volunteers. On our Day of Caring events, we sometimes have organizations with as many as 500 volunteers. I visit a lot of rescue missions in other cities and I hear a lot of times, “We don’t do a lot of volunteerism. It’s too much work.” I guess people don’t realize how much they’re losing out by not building a great volunteer program or by not building an opportunity to collaborate with their local businesses.
Describe the hands-on aspect of volunteering and how volunteers impact
I think volunteers, or businesses and corporations, come with the intent to make a difference. I don’t think they realize how fulfilled they’re going to become in that process. We see that when employees volunteer together it creates a real bond, and I’ve actually heard that it increases not only staff morale, but also their performance at work.
Do you facilitate any activities on the street that groups can participate in?
We do street ministry four days per week. We have a Streets of Omaha program and a Water Patrol program.
How does the Omaha community support the mission?
We have more than 14,000 volunteers who donate two hours of their time each month. We also have a number of businesses, corporations and churches that support us monetarily and through volunteering. For instance, Max I. Walker, one of the dry cleaners here in our community, collects prom, dinner, cruise and gala dresses, dry cleans them and then resells them for us. They have raised more than $100,000 with that event for us annually over the last eight years.
Where does the mission come up with its ideas?
We’re brainstorming all the time. For instance, toilet paper used to be a really big line item for us, and now we have a huge toilet paper drive. We have a facility that sleeps 300 women and children, and diapers used to be a huge need for us. So we partnered with one of our local hospitals, as well as trucking companies and radio stations. This past year we raised more than 850,000 diapers in three days. You have to start with what the need is and then create a campaign or a plan.
What are some ideas for groups to implement in their own giveback programs?
We have a program called Dine Out to End Hunger. We partner with 12 restaurants. When participants eat on that night, 10 percent goes toward Open Door Mission’s Feeding the Hungry program. You could do that anywhere. You could also partner with a local dry cleaning company. I mentioned Max I. Walker collects dresses, but another dry cleaning company collects blankets for us. So there are some concepts you could use just about anywhere you are in the collaboration process. Sometimes it takes a lot of time in the beginning to create the events and go out and talk to your partners, but it really does pay off in the end as a beneficial collaboration for not only meeting a need but also creating public awareness.