August 23, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The Salvation Army is certainly a legacy in Omaha, having started around 1912, two years before World War I began. The international organization was founded in London in 1865.

Fast forward through a Great Depression, a second world war, a Cold War, and the advent of computers and the internet. The Salvation Army’s mission has essentially remained unchanged — provide shelter to the needy, food for the hungry, and medicine for the sick.

Today, Omaha’s Salvation Army is headed by Majors Greg and Lee Ann Thompson. They both serve as divisional leaders of the Salvation Army’s western division, which includes Nebraska, Iowa, and South Dakota. They both came to the Salvation Army at an early age. Lee Ann’s mother, Jan Bloom, volunteered at the Salvation Army in their hometown in Minnesota, and Lee Ann attended the organization’s youth group. Greg, who was born in Omaha, was brought into the organization when he was barely a week old.

“I was carried in,“ Thompson says with a laugh.

Greg, who left Omaha with his family at age 8, met Lee Ann at a Salvation Army camp in Minneapolis in 1981. In 1999, they came to Omaha, where they were appointed divisional youth secretaries. Unlike many charitable organizations, the Salvation Army is set up in a quasi-military style of management, where positions are appointed. Many people are unaware that The Salvation Army is a Protestant church, with 11 core beliefs that align with many Christian churches. Greg’s parents, Paul and Alma Thompson, were members of the church. This is why employees tend to view their roles as vocations instead of jobs.

“God called us to be Salvation Army officers,“  says Greg.

Having a presence in three different centuries, The Salvation Army has dispatched volunteers to victims of floods, fires, and tornadoes since its founding. Throughout the past 20 years, the organization has shifted some of their resources to address more contemporary issues. Funding and personnel for teen pregnancy services has been reallocated to mental health and human trafficking. For human trafficking, law enforcement routinely reach out to The Salvation Army’s case workers to help victims.

“I-80 is a massive corridor for [human trafficking]. And people think it’s not real, but it is. It’s very, very real,“ Thompson says.

Local and national investigations into organizations like The Red Cross and Goodwill have put greater attention to how organizations spend donation dollars. Forbes magazine ranked The Salvation Army as the fourth largest charity in the United States, with a total revenue of almost $3 billion. Nationally, it’s estimated that 82 cents out of every dollar donated to the Salvation Army goes directly toward relief campaigns (the other 18 cents are dedicated to salaries and other overhead expenses).

The percentage is even higher in Omaha, says Susan Eustice, divisional director of public relations and communications. Eustice says Omaha’s figure is closer to 87 cents out of every dollar. This figure is determined by subtracting Omaha’s actual program expenses (including salaries) from the end of year revenue The Salvation Army generates.

Some of the funds have been used to modernize The Salvation Army’s presence in Omaha. One major campaign includes rebuilding their campus at 36th and Cuming streets. A second includes doubling their capacity for the mental health respite program.

“Everything we do emanates from our belief that God has called us to help mankind,“ Lee Ann says.

Visit salarmyomaha.org for more information.

This article published in the Fall 2017 edition of B2B.

From left: Lee Ann and Greg Thompson.