MASS Spotlight: Johnny Harrell, Burrows Center Volunteer

Nov 18, 2020

Salvation Army volunteer Johnny Harrell knows first-hand what it feels like to need help in order to make ends meet. “At one time I was someone who came to the Burrows Center in need of services,” he said. “And now I’m here to help the community.”

For the last nine years, Harrell has volunteered for the Material Assistance and Seasonal Services (MASS) program at The Salvation Army’s Burrows Center for Help and Hope, assisting clients who are struggling to pay their utility bills.

In addition to utility bill assistance, the Burrows Center also fills more than 8,000 grocery orders every year via its food pantry; offers an annual Christmas Assistance program to help ensure that families and older adults have gifts under the tree and food on the table; and distributes backpacks and school supplies every August to families with school-age children in the Omaha metro and points beyond.

This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, The Salvation Army of Omaha organized a drive-thru backpack distribution — but ordinarily, seeing the kids select their backpacks in person is a highlight for Harrell.

“Every year, we wait for one child in particular to come in for his backpack,” he recalled. “He’s been coming for seven or eight years. He has Down’s Syndrome, and his favorite color is red. And every year when he gets his red backpack, he does a little dance. That’s my favorite moment of the year.”     

Dedicated volunteers like Harrell are the backbone of The Salvation Army’s efforts to help those in need in the Omaha metro. From ringing bells during the holiday season to distributing supplies in the wake of a local disaster or serving food to the hungry, volunteers who offer their time and skills make a significant contribution to our community by giving hope to individuals and families.

For Harrell, volunteering for The Salvation Army started as way to give back to his community, but it’s also given him an unexpected gift. “The people who work here are like my brothers and sisters,” he said. “I found a sense of family here.”

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The Salvation Army’s MASS program provides assistance when times are tough by offering food, clothing, household items, help paying for prescription medications, utility assistance and seasonal services. Our goal is to help those who are struggling stay afloat until financial stability can be achieved. For more information about MASS, visit our Burrows Center for Help and Hope website.

Are you wondering, “What can I do?” to help people in need during this especially challenging Christmas season? One answer might be to help Johnny and his MASS colleagues #RescueChristmas this year for thousands of people in the metro. Consider making a donation to a virtual red kettle, sign up for the Adopt-a-Family program to sponsor a family in need this Christmas or check out our many volunteer opportunities.

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