Omaha's homeless surprised with Christmas gifts

Posted at 10:25 PM, Dec 17, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-17 23:36:24-05
Hundreds of Omaha’s homeless, who otherwise would be out in the cold, got a warm Christmas surprise Saturday thanks to the generosity of countless volunteers. 
With dangerously frigid conditions there was a warm Christmas spirit at the Siena, Francis House Saturday night downtown.
“A blanket, a warm blanket,” said Janell Pehanch of Council Bluffs, happy with her gift.
A few months ago Pehanch became homeless.
"I chose drugs over paying my bills or whatnot,” Pehanch said. “I just hit rock bottom." 
The recovering addict thought she was sitting down for a nice hot meal with friends, when Santa and Mrs. Claus came surprised everyone. 
"I was surprised,” Pehanch said. “I was excited." 
Pehanch says she's often overwhelmed by the kindness she experiences at the shelter.
"There’s a lot of love here,” she said. “I'm grateful for this place and I'm sure anybody else, everybody else you've talked to will say the same thing."
While the Siena Francis House is keeping hundreds warm with full bellies and the Christmas gift of their choice, that's not the case for those stuck outside.
"There's been a lot of deaths, a lot of deaths from the cold,” Pehanch said. “We're trying to prevent that. We do whatever we can to go out and track people down that are out there with no homes.”
Since the cold set in earlier in the week, Siena Francis House Executive Director Mike Saklar says there are so many coming in from the cold, many sleep on the floor. 
"On Monday evening, we hit 376 men in this building, a total of 556 in the entire campus,” Saklar said. “We were three people off of our all time record high."
Many in desperate need, Saklar says, are working men and women.
"The men, women and the families that show up here, they're not much different than anyone else in this community,” he said. “They've fallen on hard times. They have issues that cause them to seek shelter." 
With tremendous need this Christmas season, the generosity of hundreds in the community make sure not even the homeless go without a present.