Donors Open Hearts, Pocketbooks in Wake of Flood

Mar 27, 2024 | by Daisy Hutzell-Rodman

When a wave of water washed over the Spencer Dam and dozens of levees in the middle of March 2019, the philanthropic community — from individuals who could spare only a little to corporate donors who contributed thousands — stepped in to assist the people affected by the historic flooding.

“It’s as pure a fundraising effort as I’ve ever seen, and we had no overhead,” said Jeff Beckman, executive director of development for The Salvation Army Western Division. “We can go back to any funder and tell them that we put their investment directly to use to help survivors.”

As soon as the floodwaters crossed into eastern Nebraska on Wednesday, March 13 and Thursday, March 14, Beckman and others saw an immediate need for flood cleanup kits, food, potable water and more — and the donations started coming in rapidly. The Salvation Army team quickly went to work creating a temporary flood-relief warehouse at the former Canfield’s Sporting Goods store in midtown Omaha. As the following Monday came, Beckman and his team began calling on major funders; within a matter of days, many of them had opened their hearts, and pocketbooks, to the tune of nearly $2 million worth of disaster-relief donations.

It wasn’t only individuals who stepped up, though. Organizations and businesses began donating whatever they could. A hardware store donated tens of thousands of gift cards to help flood survivors secure much-needed household items, while national restaurant chains provided food for both disaster-relief teams and flood survivors. By the time it was done, Beckman said was there was about $3 million in cash and about $500,000 in gifts-in-kind that had been given to The Salvation Army in support of its efforts.

“We had people from all over the country,” Beckman said. “What impressed me was people … were hearing about us on TV, and a $5 check would arrive. And there was even six-figure check from a national organization.”

When any disaster strikes, people have the opportunity to help, and Beckman recalled one donation in particular that embodied the Bible story from Mark 12:41-44 – The Widow’s Offering.

“There was a gentleman who came into Canfield’s the day after we set up,” Beckman said. “[He] was elderly, and he was wearing overalls, and he brought in a shovel. He said ‘I wish I could give you more, but this is what I’ve got.’ We said, ‘That’s OK, we’re happy to have this.’ We took it, and it had a good handle, and a good blade, and it worked perfectly.”

It was people like that gentleman — as well as the collective team effort of Salvation Army Western Division officials, the organization’s closest stakeholders, the funders, the development team leadership, and the volunteer leadership — who worked together to provide the resources that were needed to assist all the victims.

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