The People's City Mission building
The People's City Mission in Lincoln. Photo by Josie Dostal.

The holiday season is known as the season of giving. Many have donated old hats and gloves, volunteered at a soup kitchen or participated in a toy drive. This year, help is more needed and appreciated than ever at homeless shelters.

Homeless shelters rely on private donations. During the past quarantine months, however, homeless shelters have seen a decline in donations.

Thankfully, with new government funding due to the virus, some homeless shelters have been able to get extra government funds this year, which has allowed them to continue supporting the community.

Some homeless shelters were only accepting monetary donations and cut back on the number of volunteers during the midst of COVID-19 to help slow the spread of the virus.

Now, most shelters have begun accepting all types of donations again and have developed protocols that help keep volunteers and the residents safe.

Amy Pappas, the chief operations officer of the People’s City Mission in Lincoln, said they are helping keep their residents healthy with some key changes. The Mission has started to require new residents to have a valid Lincoln identification and have verifiable proof they have been residing in Lincoln for at least 60 days. Residents cannot currently have exposure to COVID-19. The mission also requires the residents to wear masks in all public areas of the facility. If the residents don’t comply with the new regulations, they won’t receive any more services.

“We sanitize twice a day in addition to our normal daily cleaning.  Hand washing and hand sanitizing is encouraged.  We have discovered if you have the hand sanitizer readily available, people tend to use it,” says Pappas.

The Matt Talbot Kitchen has also implemented many new protocols to help keep volunteers and guests safe while still being able to provide meals for the homeless.

Takeout meals are provided daily for guests with only 10 people allowed in the building at a time and there is a grab-and-go breakfast option available to guests every morning outside the facility. The kitchen has just recently reopened part of their dining hall for guests that don’t have anywhere to go. Each table has a plexiglass divider and is limited to four people.

Many homeless shelters have communal areas such as the kitchen, bathroom and living space, which can make it very easy to spread COVID-19. Tim Sully, the development director at the Sienna Francis House in Omaha, shared how the House has dealt with the over 60 residents that have tested positive for COVID-19.

“We put all positive-testing guests in an isolation unit, or old women’s shelter, where they then quarantined for two weeks. During that time, the guests could not leave the facility. However, if anyone did leave, they couldn’t return for two weeks,” says Sully.

Homeless shelters know that volunteering might be the only way that some people can give back to the community, which is why shelters have made it a priority to protect volunteers.

“We are always in need of volunteers to help serve meals in our kitchen and take a multitude of precautions to keep the volunteers safe,” says Pappas.

The best way to help the homeless community this holiday season is through monetary and item donations. Shelters are always in need of hygiene items such as soap, shampoo, razors and deodorant.

“Monetary donations are always welcome! With the colder weather, we are always in need of bedding, especially blankets and quilts. We provide the people staying here with bedding and towels if they don’t have their own, and many do not.  Prayer is good if people are spiritual,” says Pappas.

Shelters are unsure of how COVID-19 will affect their usual influx of donations around the holiday season. The People’s City Mission has a plan in place if the expected drop happens.

There are many ways to support the homeless community, which can be found on the shelters’ websites. Most shelters will have an urgent-need list or a wishlist that details what the shelter is most in need of.