by Michelle DeRusha
When icy winds howl and the thermometer plummets in Omaha, Neb., surviving on the streets can become a life or death situation. That’s why The Salvation Army launched Winter Night Watch which provides hot meals, beverages and winter outerwear five nights a week throughout the Omaha metro area during the season’s harshest months. Though the program targets the homeless and near-homeless, it also serves a broader client base.
“In many cases this program is meeting the food needs of the working poor,” noted Western Divisional Commander Major Greg Thompson. “It’s also not unusual to have children visit the trucks, asking for meals for their whole family.”
Last year Winter Night Watch served more than 16,000 meals and distributed more than 12,000 winter outerwear items, including coats, scarves and gloves.
Approximately 600 volunteers help keep the program running; many travel with the canteens each night during the program’s season which runs from the end of November to the beginning of March. As temperatures dip below freezing, numbers increase. During the coldest weeks, Winter Night Watch feeds up to 300 people each night.
The canteens follow three separate routes, making two stops each. This year a new stop will be added on its southern route in Bellevue, a suburb of Omaha, in addition to stops in north and central Omaha.
“Winter Night Watch embodies the essence of The Salvation Army and its mission,” said Omaha Advisory Board member and longtime Winter Night Watch volunteer Anne Baxter. “Delivering food and clothing on a cold night to the people who need it the most—that’s what The Salvation Army is all about.”