Originally Published: December 21, 2022
Group is not just for meat retailers anymore — and it gives to Goodfellows
The Omaha Retail Meat Dealers Association was founded 136 years ago for men in the meatpacking, butchering and sales industry.
The goal was to help establish guidelines for meat products, said current President Gary Wesely, and it was part of a national organization.
Over the years, membership waned as packinghouses closed and small butcher shops became rare. Wesely said the group came close to folding, then made a transition: It’s now a social group with monthly gatherings for meals, meetings, fellowship …
And philanthropy. The group has donated more than $20,000 to Omaha nonprofits this year and about $340,000 to worthy local causes since it began fundraising in 2000, Wesely said.
“We have a lot of generous members,” he added.
One of the recipients of that generosity is The World-Herald’s Goodfellows charity, which has been providing one-time emergency aid to struggling Omaha-area residents for almost as long as the meat dealers association has been around.
Goodfellows, a nonprofit organization now administered by United Way of the Midlands, also gives holiday meal certificates to families in need. The 2022 Goodfellows fundraising campaign started in mid-November and runs through Dec. 31.
This year, Wesely said, the association gave Goodfellows $2 for every member, totaling $518. It currently has about 240 members from all walks of life; you don’t have to be associated with meatpacking, cutting or retailing to join anymore, although many members still have family or friends with ties to the industry.
They chose Goodfellows because of its strong community commitment.
“We try to keep the money in the Omaha area,” Wesely said, “and everything I’ve read about Goodfellows says the money stays in Omaha.”
The group also supports the Child Saving Institute and Bethlehem House, a residence for expectant mothers, among other nonprofits.
And, Wesely said, “if a member has a sick relative, especially a child, then we help them out.”
It meets at the Knights of Columbus Hall in South Omaha every month except January and February. It also has a summer picnic at the Croatian Cultural Center.
At each event, members pass a bucket for donations.
Wesely’s background is in the grocery business, though not specifically dealing meat. When asked how he became president of a group called the Omaha Retail Meat Dealers Association, he had a succinct answer:
“Someone volunteered me and I stuck with it,” he said. “That was 28 years ago.”