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Darlene and Roger Crane help hang clothes April 27 at Siena/Francis House homeless shelter in Omaha.

Couple helps clothe homeless in coats, shirts – and self-respect

Clothing the naked – a corporal work of mercy – can go beyond helping clothe the body. It also can mean giving others the gift of self-respect.

Darlene and Roger Crane, members of St. Columbkille Parish in Papillion, view that as part of their mission as they sort, organize and hang donated clothing at the Siena/Francis House homeless shelter in Omaha.

"Decent clothing is important to people who don’t have a home," Darlene said. "When you see how important one shirt can be to someone, how it gives them self-respect, it’s very satisfying."

"The biggest thing is, they can count on having the clothing they need – clothes that are not rags," Roger said.

Shelter guests are allowed to go in once a day and pick out what they need, Darlene said. "Many of the guests come in off the street and have nowhere to put things, so if it gets hot in the afternoon and they lay down a coat or shirt somewhere, it will be gone, so by night they need new clothes."

Donations of new and used clothing come from many sources, including individuals and companies, Darlene said.

"We always make sure that it is clothing that’s decent and presentable. The criteria we use is, ‘would I want to wear that?’ You want things that are going to give them a good feeling about themselves," she said.

The couple began volunteering at the shelter when Roger retired from a career in construction about seven years ago. While Darlene continued to sell real estate, they also were looking for something they could do together, and now spend every Wednesday morning volunteering.

"We’ve gotten to know a lot of the people there, and the guests are always happy to see us because they know what we’re there for," Roger said. "And to see the results of the shelter’s programs – it’s extremely uplifting for both of us."

The Cranes also enjoy visiting with shelter guests. "A lot of them like to tell you their stories, where they’ve been, what they’ve done and the problems they’ve had," Roger said. "I don’t know if I make a difference, but I feel good about it."

They also help guests select the right clothes, such as when one is going to a job interview or to court, Darlene said. "Roger is really good at that. He will help them put together a shirt and tie, and in many cases he will tie the tie for them, because they don’t know how to do that."

"The guests are always so appreciative," Darlene said. "To actually say, ‘I have a new shirt, I have a pair of shoes,’ they walk out on the street and now they don’t look homeless."

The Cranes are humble about their work at the shelter. They said they hadn’t thought of it as a work of mercy because it was so fulfilling for them personally. "All the people and companies who are donating – they’re all contributing to this work of mercy," she said. "We just take it and make it presentable. It’s a job that has to be done."

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