Lincoln’s safety net wins praise — for marketing

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Story and photos by Maureen Wurtz, News Net Nebraska

The People’s City Mission, a pillar of the Lincoln community has regularly been praised in helping Lincoln’s homeless, but it now houses the most prestigious award in advertising. The People’s City Mission is the only non-profit charity to receive the “Effie,” based on its marketing of its “Mission Bean” coffee.

The Mission beat out Starbucks, Folgers, and Maxwell House-just to name a few. The marketing promise: Buy one bag, feed one homeless person.

The campaign was so successful that retail grocery stores sales exceeded the goal by 32 percent, according to effie.org. The growing success of the Mission Bean coffee is just a reflection of what the People’s City Mission has been doing.

In a neat office at the people’s City Mission, Pastor Tom Barber, the executive director of the Mission, sat down at an oak table, and looked over his round glasses as he picked up the gold award.

Barber joined the mission in 2005, after being a Pastor at ‘Christ’s Place Church,’ in Lincoln, Neb. Before becoming an ordained Pastor by ‘The Assemblies of God’ in 1996, he was climbing up the ladder at a fortune 100 Company, TRW. The small gold Effie rests on the table as he talked about the success of the Mission in the past few years.

Lincoln knows the significance of the work done on 110 N. Q St, said Barber. “The city supports its homeless on charity alone,” Barber said.

The success of the Mission’s monetary management and the impact that it has also gives it another prestigious title—a four-star rating from charitynavigator.org. The Mission has a higher rating than charities doing similar work in Houston, Boston, and Las Vegas.

During these past five years, one of the worst recessions in American history has occurred. One of the main reasons that the Mission is stable in its donations, said Barber, is because of consistent small donors.

These small donors give anywhere from $100-$150 each year- no matter what the economic climate. The donations provide a steady flow of money that the Mission needs.

From 2005-2008, revenue for the Mission increased substantially. In 2005, the primary revenue, according to charitywater.org, was around $3 million. In 2008, the revenue was around $11 million.

In 2009, the Mission lost money due to the stock market drops. With a continuous increase in the need for services, the Mission is becoming an even more important. In 2010, the mission served 6,000 more unduplicated people compared to 2009. Instead of turning people away, the Mission used savings to help the people.

“If you give me money, I’ll get it to the needy,” Barber said with conviction.

As the winter months begin, the need increases as more people seek shelter from the cold. Timothy Dodd, the Facilities Director at the People’s City Mission said, “The biggest difficulty (in the winter months) is the increased number of guests as the weather grows colder in all areas of the shelter- men’s, women’s, family, and emergency.” Dodd oversees the grounds, maintenance, and housekeeping crews at the Mission.

Just last year during the first week in December 2009, the temperature range was from 14 to 28 degrees. Snowfall last year on December 12, 2009 was around five inches, according to the National Weather Service website.

Last winter was one of the coldest winters in Nebraska history. The Mission is prepared for what could be another freezing winter. Dodd said, “We begin preparing for different aspects of winter at different times. Most preparations begin to take shape in the early fall months to prepare for the winter months.”

The Mission provides a home to those who need it- but if the Mission didn’t exist?

Joleen Prunty, a resident  at the People’s City Mission, shows off some rings.

“We would be on the streets,” said Joleen Prunty, 58, a temporary resident at the Mission. “Can you imagine the winter? It’s so cold. People would die.”

“It would be catastrophic,” said Barber, “Where would Lincoln put its 350 homeless people?”

The Mission currently houses 350 residents and offers a free medical clinic that ranges from chiropractic appointments to eye examinations.

It remains the sole place that offers an immediate relief from homelessness, said Barber.  Government aid can take up to three months, but the Mission is immediate.

“We are Lincoln’s safety net. We are the place that you can walk into,” said Barber. One fact remains, if the mission were to burn down, there is no other alternative places in Lincoln; the People’s City Mission is unique and essential said Barber.

There is always a need at the mission, according to Dodd. “We can always use donations of money, time, clothing, food, etc. Additional space would be nice in the future to help accommodate all our clients more efficiently.”

“If everyone gave just a small amount of something to help with the fight on poverty and homelessness, we could eliminate most of it in Lincoln. Homelessness is largely solvable,” said Barber.

And the People’s City Mission is hard at work to do just that

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