Omaha School Provides Christmas Meals to Needy Families

OMAHA, Neb. — Hundreds of Catholic high school students in Omaha spent about 40 hours organizing and distributing 200,000 pounds of food at Christmas for Operation Others.

This year, Operation Others, a 35-year-old project, was expected to reach close to 1,200 Omaha families as well as 340 Native American families on reservations in Nebraska and South Dakota.

Operation Others is unique because it is primarily student run, said Marie Angele, campus minister at Daniel J. Gross Catholic High School.

“It's a fabulous project,” she told The Catholic Voice, newspaper of the Omaha Archdiocese. “I think it's a wonderful way for the Catholic high schools to work together.”

A core group of 25 students met every Wednesday since September to organize larger group meetings, design T-shirts and plan fund-raisers. This year the group raised $30,000.

Bill Laird, a theology teacher at Creighton Prep High School and coordinator of Operation Others since 1982, said he loves spending time with the students and seeing them work so hard.

“My favorite part about Operation Others is the fact that the students have fun working their tails off to help other human beings,” he said. “The opportunity for me, personally, to hang out with this group of young people is part of what keeps me going.”

Angele said the project teaches students what it means to be Catholic and helps them develop leadership skills.

Members of the Operation Others project from Catholic high schools in Omaha, Neb., provided 200,000 pounds of food to 1,200 families at Christmas. (Photo by The Catholic Voice)

“As Catholic schools, we want to be mindful of the justice issues and help students understand that they have benefited from many blessings in their lives, and from those blessings, by sharing, they can help others,” she said. “I think that's really essential to our faith of loving one another.”

Eighteen-year-old Katy Hovermale, a senior at Angela Skutt Catholic High School, got involved with Operation Others last year when she was asked to be on the core team.

“It is one of the most awesome things in the whole world. I love it,” she said. “Being able to help all those people, knowing that you are responsible for making someone else's Christmas better makes you feel so awesome.”

She said Operation Others is not only about serving others but also about building relationships with other students and with the families they visit.

Hannah Lefler, a senior at Daniel Gross Catholic High School, agrees.

“On delivery day, the families are just so excited and they invite you in for hot chocolate,” she said. “I've just met so many people and made so many new friends.”

‘Calling Day’

With the help of Catholic Charities, the students received the names and addresses of several families who would benefit from the food delivered through Operation Others. They also sponsored a daylong “calling day” during which people could call a hot line, available in English and Spanish, and request the food.

Ed Kult, a theology teacher at Creighton Prep, took the information and designed a detailed database that included maps and tally lists. In fact, the project is so organized that Kult, who spends nearly 200 hours working on the project, said they average only four “no finds” on delivery day.

When the students' Christmas vacation begins, they spend the first day organizing food items and the next day filling boxes. The following day, after 7 a.m. Mass, between 400 and 600 students, alumni, families and friends arrive at the delivery site to distribute the boxes to the assigned families. They all meet again the next day to clean up.

“You're going on no sleep, but you never really feel the tiredness until you get home on the last day,” Hovermale said.

Operation Others has become a community-wide effort, with several Omaha companies donating bread, boxes and the refrigeration space needed for the food.

“I'm stunned by it every year,” Laird said.

Doug Peters said his life has been changed by Operation Others. The Creighton Prep senior, who is in his third year with the program, said he loved it from the start because “it just felt good to do something to help other people out instead of just spending my time after finals at home watching TV.”

Operation Others reaffirmed his faith and his desire to major in social work in college, he said.

“When you see all the kids that will come down after finals on the weekend right before Christmas and deliver food to the families,” he said, “it's amazing.”

The Earth is Not Our Mother

“The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate.”—G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy