Through generosity and respect, COPE helps those in need
Individuals and families throughout Omaha need assistance at times. There are many dedicated organizations ready to help, especially throughout Eastern Douglas County. However, for those families living in Western Douglas County communities such as Valley, Waterloo, Bennington, and Elkhorn, options have been more limited. That’s why the Christian Outreach Program—Elkhorn, COPE, opened its doors more than 10 years ago to help fill that much needed void.
COPE Executive Director Tammy Green has been with the organization for the past two years. She has extensive experience with non-profits, but said she was drawn to COPE because of its organic culture and unique way it’s structured. “It has to do with the respect we give families,” she said. The organization is careful to treat those they work with just like the people they are—neighbors, classmates, and family members. “They’re all hard working and have jobs, they’ve just hit a rough patch,” she explained. All of COPE’s case workers are those who have received assistance in the past, which helps them truly understand the unique positions of the families.
Since COPE is the only organization in Western Douglas County that provides assistance, the organization tries to ensure it’s available to families when they need it. Much of what they do revolves around rent and utility aide, but they also have food pantries throughout the week, seasonal community gardens, and clothing donations. Because space at COPE is limited, the organization has formed partnerships with area churches who provide the space for the food pantries, and many local businesses, such as Hy-Vee and Family Fare, make regular donations.
“We have an entire sustainability program,” Green said. This extends to COPE’s partnerships with Cooking Matters, Tomato Tomato, and CHI so that families have fresh fruits and vegetables rather than just high processed boxed foods and are offered classes to teach them how to cook healthier meals with what they have. Other classes include helping individuals understand finances, realistic budgeting, and helping them establish utility level payment plans.
In 2014 COPE helped more than 540 families through 5,700 services. Two of their busiest times of the year are back to school and Christmas. “Both of these could be considered crisis moments financially for a family, and we try to alleviate that crisis,” Green said. COPE supplies backpacks and supplies for kids during back to school. “School supplies can cost $100 per child, and for a family with four children, that’s $400 and doesn’t include school clothing and shoes,” she said.
The adopt-a-family family program at Christmas helps 200 kids and their families each year. Families can enroll their children in the program, providing their list of needs, which are distributed throughout the community. More than 400 volunteers help put on a celebration in which donations are sorted and distributed to families at a celebration. This year’s will occur on Dec. 12th from 2:00-4:00pm at the Peace Presbyterian Church in Elkhorn and include a visit from Santa and his elves, music from the Elkhorn South High School Band, and an opportunity for kids to pick out presents for their parents that are donated from throughout the community as well.
Green said COPE is run solely through volunteers and that they always welcome more. Their goal is to continue to grow so that COPE can increase its hours to serve more families and serve them better. “We’re here fighting poverty one family at a time,” she said. “We want to partner with people for the long haul so they can succeed in life. That’s when we know we’ve done our job.”