Tag Archives: Salvation Army

Food for Thought

March 6, 2019 by
Photography by Sarah Lemke

School lunch is a memory for nearly everyone. Some people have memories of rejecting the “mystery meat” served daily, while others have memories of being able to eat a meal that day because of the service.

According to the latest statistics available through Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap study, 18.2 percent of Douglas County’s children are food insecure, meaning they lack reliable access to a sufficient quantity of nutritious food. In Sarpy County, the food-insecurity rate is 15.3 percent, and the study shows similar rates in other counties surrounding the metro Omaha area.

Local families may struggle to put food on the table due to a wide range of temporary or long-term conditions that create financial hardship, but circumstances don’t really matter when a growing child isn’t getting enough to eat, says Tammy Yarmon, the Nutrition Services director for Omaha Public Schools.

“Hungry kids just don’t learn,” Yarmon says. “They spend their time in school thinking about how hungry they are.”

Many hungry schoolchildren can count on receiving lunch daily during the school year. The National School Lunch Program, a federally assisted meal program, provides nutritionally balanced low-cost or free lunches. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service administers the program at the federal level, and the Nebraska Department of Education’s Office of Nutrition Services facilitates the program throughout the state via agreements with local school districts and private schools.

Despite the relatively low prices of school lunches, some families find that a couple of dollars a day—especially if those families have several children—is hard to come by five days a week. Susan Eustice, a spokesperson for the Omaha-area Salvation Army, says more than 40 percent of children in Nebraska receive free or reduced-rate school lunches with eligibility based on household income. “In some schools, these numbers climb as high as 80 or 90 percent,” she says.

Yarmon emphasizes that the application process for free or reduced-rate lunches “is the same everywhere” and that families can apply at any time if their financial situation changes.

And the program keeps in mind the privacy of the students. Children use ID codes connected to lunch accounts, so their peers have no way of knowing how much their families are paying.

Other school-based, government-backed programs provide breakfast, snacks, and/or dinner associated with before-school and after-school enrichment activities. Various community organizations fill the gap through “backpack” programs that send eligible children home with food for the weekend and mobile food pantries that reach families in need directly at school.

“We’re here for our kids and we will do whatever we can to make sure they get a meal,” Yarmon says. “We all have the same focus: our eye is on the child.”

But what happens over the long summer break when kids aren’t eating meals at school and parents may also be incurring additional childcare costs? “Families must seek other resources for meals when school is out of session,” Eustice says. For eight years, a partnership between The Food Bank for the Heartland and the Salvation Army has offered Kids Cruisin’ Kitchen, a program that brings meals directly to hungry kids.

“We help provide canteen units and help serve the kids,” says Joel Arthur, divisional director of emergency disaster services for the Salvation Army. Arthur works with KCK. “We work together hand-in-hand with the Food Bank. It’s a great partnership, we love working with them. It’s all to help kids in Omaha who desperately need food.”

Through KCK, meals are delivered by four mobile distribution units throughout Omaha, Bellevue, Ralston, La Vista, Valley, and Blair from early June through mid-August. KCK sites don’t have to be associated with enrichment programs, and families don’t have to go through an application process or provide proof of income.

“Last summer we served 82,782 meals. It’s a great program that’s filling an important need during a critical time of the year when not as many resources are available with school out of session,” says Angie Grote, communications manager at Food Bank for the Heartland. “[Without that daily meal to rely on,] we’ve heard parents say their children would have had to choose between having only lunch or having only dinner.”

Meal assistance opens the door for participation in other assistance programs. Yarmon says that families experiencing economic insecurity or financial hardship may be less likely to be able to stay in one home long-term, so “going through the schools and through the children, we’re more apt to reach the families,” she explains.

“We’ve had a really good experience with the school-based mobile pantries and we’re considering expanding the program,” Grote says.

Arthur agrees that food programs that assist children are often the key to connecting a family with other services that can help insure improved safety and stability.

“The parents know the children are there,” Arthur says. “They come with the kids sometimes, so information is often passed on to the parents as to where they can get more food and other help.”

How to Help

There are numerous ways to support the effort to feed local children and families, says Angie Grote, communications manager for Food Bank for the Heartland.

“We are grateful for all donations we receive, whether they’re food, funds or someone’s time. It’s important to us to make the best possible use of resources we are given. There are a lot of ways for folks in the community to get involved,” she says.

The organization’s website, foodbankheartland.org, is a great source for information on how to organize a food drive or donate food, how to make financial contributions, and for what tasks volunteers are needed. The number of volunteer hours annually equates approximately 20 full-time workers, and helps make it possible for the Food Bank to distribute food to 600 nonprofit organizations in Nebraska and western Iowa which serve individuals and families in their communities.

“We have tremendous community support, and our operations wouldn’t be what they are without that support,” Grote says.

The local Salvation Army also accepts contributions and volunteers, spokesperson Susan Eustice says. Interested individuals can find out more on the website, centralusa.salvationarmy.org/omaha, and potential volunteers are encouraged to contact the local volunteer coordinator at 402-898-6000.

“It’s not too early to sign up for the summer program [Kids Cruisin’ Kitchen],” Eustice says.

Families who are struggling but don’t quite meet the income requirements for free or reduced-rate lunches for their children can receive assistance through donations to The Omaha Public Schools Foundation, says Tammy Yarmon, the Nutrition Services director for Omaha Public Schools. Through a website link at ops.thankyou4caring.org/donation-programs, donors can direct their contributions to pay off a school’s lunch debts, for instance. “You determine where it goes,” she says.

For more information on how to help, contact The Nutrition Services office at 531-299-0230 or email Yarmon at tammy.yarmon@ops.org.

This article was printed in the Summer 2019 edition of Family Guide.

The Salvation Army

August 15, 2018 by

Mission Statement

The Salvation Army, an international movement, is an evangelical part of the universal Christian church. Its message is based on the Bible. Its ministry is motivated by the love of God. Its mission is to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination. 

Wish List

  • Gift cards for groceries and gas
  • Cleaning products
  • New school supplies (K-12)
  • Board games
  • Non-perishable food
  • Summer fans
  • Bottled water

Upcoming Events

  • Tree of Lights Kickoff
    Nov. 8, 2018 (Thursday) 
  • Adopt A Family Radiothon
    Nov. 29 and 30, 2018 
  • D.J.’s Hero Awards Luncheon
    May 7, 2019 


The Salvation Army is a faith- based nonprofit organization that provides social services and meets human needs without discrimination. The Omaha-Council Bluffs Salvation Army serves more than 100,000 people annually through seven social service initiatives: food, housing, youth development, material assistance, older adult and behavioral health services, and anti-human trafficking.

Brag Lines

For 130 years, The Salvation Army has offered programs for the most vulnerable in our community. In Omaha, 88 cents of every dollar is spent on program services. The Salvation Army has nine primary locations in the Omaha-Council Bluffs metro including the Kroc Center, a community resource center, and Heritage Place, a new social service facility on 36th and Cuming streets. Last year 32,380 volunteers donated nearly 83,000 hours of time through bell ringing and other volunteer opportunities. 

Pay it Forward

They have many volunteer opportunities through various programs and services. To learn more about volunteering, contact Kay at 402-898-6000. The Salvation Army encourages donations of new school supplies, backpacks, non-perishable food, summer fans and bottled water. Donations are always appreciated and accepted year-round. Donate online at salarmyomaha.org

The Salvation Army

Western Divisional Headquarters
10755 Burt St.
Omaha, NE 68114

The Big Give was published in the September/October 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Omaha’s Salvation for Many

December 13, 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.

2017 May/June Giving Calendar

May 1, 2017 by and

*May 1

Youth Emergency Services’ Golf Outing (10 a.m.-7 p.m.)
Benefitting: Youth Emergency Services
Location: The Players Club at Deer Creek

May 2

50th Annual Boys Town Booster Banquet (5:30-9 p.m.)
Benefitting: Boys Town sports
Location: Embassy Suites, La Vista

Countdown to Cinco de Mayo (5:30-9:30 p.m.)
Benefitting: OneWorld Community Health
Location: Livestock Exchange Building

May 3

Memories for Kids 2017 Guild Luncheon (11 a.m.-1 p.m.)
Benefitting: Memories for Kids
Location: Champions Run

May 4

Heartland Heroes, A Centennial Celebration (6-7 p.m.)
Benefitting: American Red Cross
Location: CenturyLink Center

May 5

Leaders for Life Luncheon (11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.)
Benefitting: Creighton University’s female student-athletes
Location: Ryan Athletic Center

Run for the Wet Noses: Talk Derby to Me (5:30-9 p.m.)
Benefitting: Midlands Humane Society
Location: Mid-America Center, Council Bluffs

May 6

For the Kids Benefit: A Day at the Races, a Night on the Town (5-9:30 p.m.)
Benefitting: Omaha Children’s Museum
Location: Omaha Children’s Museum

May 9

D.J.’s Hero Awards Luncheon (11:45 a.m.-1:15 p.m.)
Benefitting: Salvation Army
Location: CenturyLink Center Omaha

May 11

Evening with Friends (6-9 p.m.)
Benefitting: CHI Health Midlands
Location: CHI Health Midlands Hospital

May 12

An Evening in the Garden (6-9:30 p.m.)
Benefitting: Brownell Talbot School
Location: Brownell Talbot Campus

Man & Woman of the Year Grand Finale Gala (6-10 p.m.)
Benefitting: Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
Location: Embassy Suites, La Vista

On the Road to the Big Easy 2017 (5:30 p.m.-midnight)
Benefitting: Boys & Girls Clubs of the Midlands
Location: Omaha Design Center

May 13

Cabaret (6-9:30 p.m.)
Benefitting: The Child Saving Institute
Location: Hilton Omaha

14th Annual Wear Yellow Ride, Fun Run & Walk (7 a.m.-2 p.m.)
Benefitting: Wear Yellow Nebraska
Location: Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum

2017 Omaha Heart Walk (8 a.m.)
Benefitting: American Heart Association
Location: Miller’s Landing

May 15

Ronald McDonald House in Omaha Golf Tournament (noon)
Benefitting: Ronald McDonald House Charities in Omaha
Location: The Players Club at Deer Creek

Chip in for Children Golf Tournament (11 a.m.)
Benefitting: Children’s Square USA
Location: Council Bluffs Country Club

May 18

SAVE Program Graduation Dinner (5:30-9 p.m.)
Benefitting: SAVE
Location: Champion’s Run

Breathe and Brew Spring Yoga Series (6:30-7:30 p.m.)
Benefitting: American Lung Association
Location: Lucky Bucket Brewery

May 19

Golf Scramble (noon-6 p.m.)
Benefitting: Senior Health Foundation
Location: Shoreline Golf Course

May 20

Great Strides (9:30 a.m.-noon)
Benefitting: Cystic Fibrosis Foundation
Location: Stinson Park

May 22

Children’s Charity Golf Classic (11 a.m.-5 p.m.)
Benefitting: Children’s Hospital & Medical Center Foundation
Location: Champions Run

May 24

Omaha Gives! (midnight-11:59 p.m.)
Benefitting: more than 1,000 Omaha nonprofits
Location: online

May 25

Bland Cares Angels Among Us Golf Outing (10:30 a.m.-7 p.m.)
Benefitting: Angels Among Us
Location: Tiburon Golf Club

May 27

19th Annual Remembrance Walk (9-11 a.m.)
Benefitting: Grief’s Journey
Location: Miller’s Landing/Pedestrian Bridge

June 1

Pinot, Pigs & Poets (6-10 p.m.)
Benefitting: Completely KIDS
Location: Happy Hollow Club

June 2

Grand Slam! (6:30-11 p.m.)
Benefitting: Methodist Hospital
Location: Werner Park

Run for the Young (7-8:30 p.m.)
Benefitting: Children’s Square USA
Location: Peak Performance

June 3

Annual Gala (6:30-11 p.m.)
Benefitting: Joslyn Art Museum Association
Location: Joslyn Art Museum

Ollie’s Dream Gala 2017 (6:30-10 p.m.)
Benefitting: Ollie Webb Center
Location: Hilton Omaha

June 5

Central High Foundation Golf Outing (7:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m.)
Benefitting: Central High School
Location: Field Club of Omaha

CHI Health Golf Outing (10:30 a.m.-4 p.m.)
Benefitting: CHI Health Foundation
Location: The Players Club at Deer Creek

June 7

CHANCE Luncheon (11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.)
Benefitting: Children’s Scholarship Fund of Omaha
Location: CenturyLink Center

June 8

Tee It Up Fore Sight Annual Golf Tournament (10:30 a.m.-3 p.m.)
Benefitting: Outlook Nebraska, Inc.
Location: Indian Creek Golf Course

June 9

Sand in the City (10 a.m.-4 p.m.)
Benefitting: Nebraska Children’s Home Society
Location: Baxter Arena

June 10

Child Saving Institute Kids 4 Kids (7:30 p.m.)
Benefitting: The Child Saving Institute
Location: Sumter Amphitheater

Vets & Pets Blackjack Run (9 a.m.-5 p.m.)
Benefitting: Midlands Humane Society
Location: American Legion

Centennial Gala (7-9 p.m.)
Benefitting: American Red Cross
Location: CenturyLink Center

June 11

Monroe-Meyer Guild Garden Walk (9 a.m.-4 p.m.)
Benefitting: Munroe-Meyer Institute
Location: 150th Street and West Dodge Road to 168th and Harrison streets

June 12

15th Annual Hope Center for Kids Golf Classic (10:30 a.m.-6 p.m.)
Benefitting: Hope Center for Kids
Location: Champions Run Golf Course

Third Annual Golf Tournament (11 a.m.-6 p.m.)
Benefitting: First Responders Foundation
Location: Oak Hills Country Club

Hit the Links and Drive Against Disabilities Golf Tournament (11:30 a.m.-7 p.m.)
Benefitting: United Cerebral Palsy of Nebraska
Location: The Player’s Club at Deer Creek

June 13

Project Harmony Golf Invitational (11 a.m.-6 p.m.)
Benefitting: Project Harmony
Location: Indian Creek Golf Course

WCA Tribute to Women (11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.)
Benefitting: Women’s Center for Advancement
Location: Hilton Omaha

June 14

Hops for Harmony (5:30-8:30 p.m.)
Benefitting: Project Harmony
Location: Werner Park

June 16

Strike a Chord (6-9 p.m.)
Benefitting: Heartland Family Service
Location: Mid-America Center

June 19

Golf Fore Kids (11 a.m.-6 p.m.)
Benefitting: Child Saving Institute
Location: The Players Club at Deer Creek

June 21

The Longest Day, an individualized fundraiser (all day)
Benefitting: Alzheimer’s Association
Location: Donor’s choice

June 24

Wheels of Courage (11 a.m.-4 p.m.)
Benefitting: the Jennie Edmundson Foundation
Location: Quaker Steak & Lube, Council Bluffs

June 30

ALS in the Heartland’s 2017 Golf Classic (11 a.m.-8 p.m.)
Benefitting: ALS in the Heartland
Location: Tiburon Golf Club

This calendar is published as shown in the print edition

We welcome you to submit events to our print calendar. Please email event details and a 300 ppi photograph three months in advance to: editintern@omahamagazine.com

*Times and dates may change. Check the website, or with the event coordinator.

Mark Erikson

October 8, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Don’t bother trying to contact Mark Erikson on a Monday night.

From now until, well—forever—he’s booked.

On Monday nights, you’ll find Erikson and more than 100 other Nebraska men singing their hearts out at a Presbyterian church in Fremont. They travel in from all over. Erikson drives from Papillion, an 80-mile round trip. Other members make the trek from South Sioux City, Beatrice, and Columbus. Erikson’s work life may take him to another state, but he’ll fly in just for practice, then back. He moves mountains to make sure he’s in his spot on the riser.

“Just a solid fact of life,” he explains.

There’s always a quorum for rehearsal of the Pathfinder Chorus.

“Every Monday at practice, we put all of life’s challenges aside. It’s like a three-hour break in the week. I’m with my buddies. And we’re singing really well,” says Erikson. “I guess it’s kind of a guy thing.”

That “guy thing” is an award-winning, nationally-recognized barbershop chorus. Erikson’s modesty masks the uniqueness of this ensemble. Widely diverse, both in age and professions, the 43-year-old group first qualified to perform at the Barbershop Harmony Society’s International Competition in 2010. They’ve continued to qualify and place every year since, a rare feat for a group made up of non-music professionals.

Barbershop harmonizing and a cappella singing in general have enjoyed resurgence in popularity in recent years, thanks to movies like Pitch Perfect and Jimmy Fallon’s “Ragtime Gals” skits.

“It really has made a difference,” says Erikson. “It’s bringing barbershop to the forefront of a new generation, introducing a music style that can fit them too. They don’t have to stop singing after high school. They can keep singing their whole lives.”

The youngest member of Pathfinder Chorus is 13, the oldest, 85, with all ages in between represented. Professions range from student to dairy farmer to military veteran. There are even a couple of pilots on stage. One flies B-52s, the other flies commercial jets. All have one thing in common: a love for music, harmony, and fellowship.

Erikson discovered his passion for barbershop singing while he was in the military, almost by accident. He was stationed at Norfolk Navy Base. An elderly lady who sat near him in church kept urging him to join the choir. So he did. Later, he downloaded a four-part men’s arrangement of “The Irish Blessing,” encouraged friends to sing with him, and never looked back. That was 11 years ago.

At 63, Erikson now serves as district president. He really wants to leave the chorus—and his community—better than he found it. He also umpires baseball. And many of the Pathfinder concerts are fundraisers. In 2014, they donated over $10,000 to the Salvation Army and Goodfellows charities.

“Mark has been crucial to the success of the group,” says retiring music director Pete “P.D.” Stibor. “Mark has the passion.”

The passion and the practice pay off—and not just at competition. On a sunny Saturday this summer, the Pathfinders performed at Burke High School. Despite beautiful weather, the auditorium was full of fans and groupies eager to spend the next 90 minutes enjoying perfect harmony. It was delivered with only voices as instruments, exploring great pop tunes, ballads, and the Beatles, complete with choreography—even “jazz hands.”

“I want to do this as long as I can,” says Erikson. “Then have the good sense to step down when the time is right. We give ourselves goose bumps on the risers. We look at each other and say…We just did that…It’s such a personal thing. Such an emotional thing to be able to share that with your friends.”


Ring Our Bell

December 22, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Salvation Army red kettles, and the bell ringers who accompany them, are synonymous with the holiday season. For many community groups, bell ringing has become more than just volunteer service—it’s a yearly tradition.

Members of Boy Scout Troop 474 of Bellevue, and their families, have been active bell ringers for nearly 15 years and will be continuing the tradition this year. “They started when they were just 7,” says Rhonda Harris, whose 14-year-old son Josh is a member of the troop, “Now they’re freshman in high school.”

This year, the boys and their families will be bell ringing at the Hy-Vee at Shadow Lake Towne Center, their spot of choice the last several years. Each year between 15 and 20 scouts from the troop participate. “It’s nice to think of others this time of year,” says Dr. John Harris, Josh’s father, who serves as Troop Committee Chairman for Troop 474.

Josh, a freshman at Bellevue West High School, serves as Troop Service Project Coordinator and also became an Eagle Scout last January. Josh says that community service is an important part of Boy Scouts and has had a significant impact on him.

Boy Scouts can advance in rank through volunteerism, which is one reason many members of the troop come back year after year. But most of the scouts he knows, he says, volunteer for more reasons than personal gain.

“You get a lot out of it [community service]; knowing you are helping other people,” Josh says. “Those of us who have already achieved Eagle Scout still do it because we love to do it.”

Troop 474 started bell ringing, in part, because it’s a community service activity in which children of all ages can participate with adult supervision. Dr. Harris and his son added that, in addition to benefitting a good cause, bell ringing can be entertaining—meeting new people, hanging out with friends and family. Josh remembers one year in particular when he attended a lock-in the night before an early morning of bell ringing.

“I had just came back from the lock-in and I still loved doing it—even though I was practically falling asleep,” Josh remembers, laughing.

This year, Troop 474 plans to participate in a bell ringing challenge sponsored by the Salvation Army. There will be awards for most money raised in a kettle, most bell-ringing hours, highest percentage of club members ringing bells, and most money raised per club member.

Oh, sure, some people might avoid eye contact with the scouts when walking in and out of the store. Or, give them that “stop pestering me” look. But those folks are generally in the minority. “The vast majority of people are really glad you’re out there,” John says. “And you’re making a difference for people who aren’t as fortunate.”

Do you want to try your hand at bell ringing this year? The Harris family has one piece of advice for you: “Dress warm,” John says. “You never know what you are going to get with Nebraska weather!”


Bikers With Bells

December 15, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Christmas means Salvation Army red kettles swinging, bells ringin…and volunteers in biker gear and Santa hats.

Navy veteran Bob Swanson is one of the Salvation Army’s most faithful bell ringers. For 10 years, he has rounded up a group of fellow motorcyclists to ring bells at the entrance to Dillon Brothers Harley
Davidson in Omaha.

The riders share the holiday spirit in their own unique way. “We wear our biker’s gear with leather vests along with Santa hats,” Swanson says. “And some of us hand candy canes to the kids.”

All are members of the American Legion Riders. That big guy in the Santa hat vigorously ringing a bell might have spent time in a war zone in Vietnam or Korea. The younger man saying “thank you” may have recently returned from Iraq.

People seem to be more motivated to donate to the Salvation Army when donating through a veteran, Swanson says. “One lady said she always feels good donating to the Salvation Army, and the fact that it’s veterans who are bell ringing made it even better.”

Swanson formed the chapter of American Legion Riders for Omaha Post 1 in 2005. Members are veterans, veterans’ spouses, or veterans’ adult children who ride motorcycles.

Men and women who are American Legion Riders represent all branches of the military with a wide spread of ages. The chapter has about 55 members.

Not all who donate are motorcyclists. Some stop to drop money into the kettle as they enter the store to buy a collar with a Harley Davidson logo for their dog. Or maybe they have their eye on a bib with the logo for their baby’s first Christmas.

“It’s fun to watch the kids. They see this big, ugly biker standing there and are a little intimidated,” Swanson says. “One of our members is Santa Claus size and last year when bell ringing he wore a Santa suit.”

Ringing bells for the Salvation Army is a good fit for the American Legion, he says. “It involves the community, and that’s one of the primary tenets of the American Legion.”

After retiring from Physicians Mutual Insurance Co. where he was a vice president, Swanson, who is 72, donned a uniform and joined other military veterans to form an American Legion color guard. They perform at funerals, parades and various functions.

“I had always been moved when I saw family reactions to military funerals. It is the final opportunity to show respect for someone who served our country,” he says. “One of the main things we have to do is keep the public aware of sacrifices that go along with military service.”

Swanson will lead members of American Legion Riders as bell ringers at the entrance to Dillon Brothers Harley Davidson near 174th and Maple streets each Saturday prior to Christmas starting November 8.   

By the way, you don’t have to be a motorcyclist to ring bells. Visit RingOmaha.org to learn about volunteering.