MASS Spotlight: Teresa Villafuerte

Oct 6, 2021

Each Wednesday in October we’ll highlight The Salvation Army’s Material Assistance and Seasonal Services (MASS) program. Today we shine the spotlight on longtime Burrows Center employee Teresa Villafuerte.

Teresa Villafuerte’s connection with the Burrows Center for Help and Hope began as a family affair nearly 20 years ago. “My sister-in-law worked here first, so she got me to volunteer,” said Teresa. “Then I got my dad, my cousins, my kids and my girlfriends from South Omaha to volunteer with me.”

When a position for a bilingual intake staff member opened a few years later, Teresa – who speaks fluent Spanish – jumped at the chance to apply. Fourteen years later, she still loves her job – particularly the opportunity to connect with the clients who come to the Burrows Center for food or help paying their utility bills.

Pre-pandemic, Teresa and other intake staff members met with clients one-on-one and then helped them shop in the pantry. That all changed in March 2020, when MASS Director Tiffanie McCowin and her staff began to pre-bag food for clients to pick up. A maximum of three clients at one time are allowed into the Burrows Center lobby to maintain social distancing.

“People are often waiting outside to come in, so we can’t spend as much time with individual clients as we used to,” said Teresa. “But we still see them, and we still get to talk to them. We still check in with them to make sure they are doing okay. For some people, coming here is their only outing for the week, so it’s important to make that in-person connection.”  

It’s been a busy 18 months at the Burrows Center, with the number of visitors to the pantry increasing dramatically during the months of the pandemic and in the wake of the storms that caused widespread power outages this summer. During a typical year, the Burrows Center fills approximately 8,000 food pantry orders.

“People are grateful,” said Teresa. She recalled one older gentleman who, after he brought his bags of food to his car, came back into the lobby of the Burrows Center to say thank you to the staff.

“He had tears in his eyes,” Teresa recalled. “He was shocked by how much food we gave him. He told us, ‘I really needed help, and I didn’t expect I would get this much help.’”

These are the kinds of personal connections that Teresa most appreciates about her job. “It’s been a hard time for a lot of people,” she admitted. “But it’s getting better. I can tell people are getting through it because they are smiling more.”

The Salvation Army of Omaha’s MASS program helps individuals and families in need bridge the gap by providing fresh and canned food, clothing and household items and assistance paying utility bills. Seasonal services include free summer fans, backpacks filled with school supplies for kids returning to the classroom and gifts and meal vouchers for families at Christmas and Thanksgiving. Learn more about MASS at the Burrows Center.

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