In 2003, Kim Thorne had no idea the Kearney Family Foundation would be serving more than 800 people 10 years later.
The first year, the nonprofit served 15 families, the next year 30 families. Since then the number has grown, plateauing the past few years, said Thorne, who is the director of the foundation.
Despite the city’s reputation for affluence, there continues to be unmet needs in the community.
“Most people think Kearney is really affluent, and it is very affluent,” Thorne said. “I don’t think we’re the exception to the rule. I just think most people don’t know what’s going on.”
For the past 10 years, the Kearney Family Foundation has given gifts to families in need. While on the surface these wrapped gifts may look like Christmas to most — and to the recipient families it is — Jennifer Varone, a board member with the foundation, believes providing Christmas is a misconception.
“We are really providing and fulfilling their needs,” Varone said. “Most of the kids, we give them some little thing they might want, but they’re getting needs that are met. They’re getting tennis shoes they don’t have, boots, coats. For my kids, they get that stuff for Christmas sometimes, but these kids, they don’t have it, and there’s no way to get it.”
Toothpaste, laundry detergent and body wash are just a few of the items that the families will receive this season. While occasionally the foundation will receive requests for video games, a common request it fulfills is for books.
“If you’re going to choose between books or food for your family, you’re going to choose food,” Varone said.
Thorne said many of the families the foundation provides for are led by parents who have taken in relative’s children and grandparents raising their grandchildren. Divorce and unwed parents also contribute to the need for these basic items for families in Kearney.
While declines in the economy have undoubtedly made the number of families they help increase, Thorne and Verona said it’s not the No. 1 contributing factor for the increase over the years. Simply put, the reason for need many times is a lack of adults with income in the household.
“They just can’t work enough to make ends meet,” she said.
Thorne recognizes that without the community support, through funding, direct donations and volunteer hours, the Kearney Family Foundation wouldn’t be able to provide for these individuals every year.
“I think because the community is more affluent than needful, we’re able to those in need,” Thorne said.
Anonymity is a key philosophy for the foundation as well. When a family agrees to receive help, their names and requests are put into a database and from there they become a number. When shoppers come to receive shopping lists and when wrappers wrap the gifts, the names of the family members are never given. Drivers who deliver the gifts are also from outside of the community, so they aren’t able to identify the recipients.
“I think it’s hard when you receive help from someone. Either you feel indebted to them or you do feel embarrassed when you see them later,” Thorne said. “It’s also not on their part. I don’t want someone to feel uncomfortable because we gave them help, because I didn’t do it personally.”
Thorne estimates the foundation will help 120 to 140 families with children in the Kearney School District this holiday season. She said either these families have asked for assistance or have been recommended by the community or teachers of the district.
“When you start talking to these families, you realize it’s a hard thing to ask for help,” Thorne said.