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This is a guest post written by People’s City Mission. You can learn more about People’s City Mission and donate here.

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Every year for now 9 years, People’s City Mission has hosted the Starry Nights Christmas Tree Festival & Gala the weekend after Thanksgiving. This year, the Festival is November 29 thru December 1, 2019, hosted at Speedway Village. This is our largest community event and fundraiser. Throughout the Festival, the community is treated to elaborate designer-decorated Christmas trees, as well as family-friendly holiday activities. The Gala complements the celebration with a live auction, dinner, silent auction, entertainment & more!

It’s a fantastic event full of color and joy and laughter. But why do we do it? Let me tell you a little bit about the Mission.

The other day, one of our new shelter guests watched carefully as I passed by. Her eyes, sullen and distrusting, following my smile without much response or emotion. She was like so many women staying at the Mission; wounded, angry, mostly wondering how she ever got here in the first place. Against all dignity and pride, she found herself waiting in line to stay at a homeless shelter. A young son in tow, maybe five or six, huddled closely next to her. He was visibly bothered, watching everything with great anxiety. Putting on my best face I warmly greeted them to our facilities, then moved quickly down the hall. I may have said a fast prayer under my breath, I don’t really remember.

Welcome to my world. I am Pastor Tom Barber and oversee the People’s City Mission. This year it is estimated we will help over 30,000 unique individuals with our various services. Most of our support coming from over 32,000 families, 210 businesses and 123 churches. Believe it or not, less than 3% of our funds is generated with state or city grants, federal funds, or private foundations. For one hundred and twelve years we have served as Lincoln’s primary shelter for the homeless. Since it began in 1907, this homeless shelter has assisted a staggering number of people. Over one million individuals have been helped by one or more of our services.

This year you can find 300-350 individuals living here on any given day. In addition, we have transitional housing units where men and women can stay for up to two years and receive more long-term care. We call this program the Curtis Center. These single room units include a TV, sink, and small refrigerator. Plus, three great meals a day, sack lunches for work, individual counseling, life skills training, a library, computer access, washer/dryers and weekly shopping at our Help Center. It’s a comprehensive program that is yielding great results.

However, we do a lot more than just shelter people. For many years the Mission operated a thrift store. In 2007 we closed the thrift store and expanded our efforts to distribute free goods to those struggling in poverty. The goal was to give away our very best donations to those in need, and then generate income by recycling whatever clothing was leftover, the reverse of a typical thrift store set up. Over the last twelve years the number of clients using the Help Center has grown to over 23,000 unique individuals. And here’s what really interesting. We make more money to go back into supporting the Mission by recycling leftovers than we did operating a thrift store. And the poor in Lincoln are now getting the very best donations!

Last but not least, the People’s City Mission operates a free medical clinic. It’s targeted at individuals without insurance and living at less than 200% of the federal poverty line. In 2018 we scaled back our clinic operations to better fund the increasing numbers of homeless using our shelter. But back in 2016 this clinic was recognized as the third largest such operation in the country, seeing over 18,000 patient visits a year. It ran at no cost to clients, and no costs to taxpayers. All the medical staff, with the exception of one Physician Assistant, volunteered their time. And our clinic provided a wide number of medical services, including general care, dermatology, dental, chiropractic, mental health, and several other specialties. The hope is to bring this clinic back to full operation within the next several years. We are keeping our fingers crossed.

So when you attend the Starry Nights Festival or Gala this year, know that in addition to having a wonderful experience with family and friends, you are also supporting everything we do at People’s City Mission. We are Lincoln’s final safety net. Have been for over one hundred years. Open continuously for 979,000 hours. When someone has nowhere else to go, or needs immediate help, we will be there for them.  Always!

Find out more information about Starry Nights on the Starry Nights Facebook Page. Purchase Gala tickets (ticket deadline is Nov. 22) or bid online for our silent auction items and Christmas Trees here.