From Togo to Omaha
May 30, 2019 12:14PM
By Houston Wiltsey
Dodji Salifou has no time to be profiled for a magazine. As the operations manager of Heartland Hope Mission, a faith-based charitable organization and food bank in Omaha, he's got more important things to do than sit down for an hour-long interview.
“I oversee all of our operations [which] includes our trucks, pantry operations, clothing, and building maintenance,” he writes in an email. “I am also an ordained minister so I share an encouraging word and offer a prayer for the clients who want it.” With a resumé like that, it's a wonder that Salifou has the time to talk at all. But then again, he's spent his entire life learning how to balance all these aspects while still making time for others.
“I feel God called me to this,” he says when asked about the impetus behind his chosen career path. Salifou grew up in a Christian home in Lomé, the capital of Togo, in West Africa. It was there that he first developed his love for doing charitable work by helping out in the church from a young age.
He studied in Togo before coming to the U.S. and getting a bachelor's degree in theology from Global University in Springfield, Missouri. Since then, he has spent the last nine years of his life helping others in his current position at the mission.
For Salifou, what makes his job so rewarding—and what he believes sets Heartland Hope Mission apart from other food pantries in the area—is the organization's focus on more than giving out food and toiletries.
“Every person is able to meet one-on-one with a client service specialist who can help them fill out a SNAP (formerly Food Stamps) application, connect them with job and education opportunities, and provide them with community referrals,” he says. “We work to prevent families from becoming homeless and help them work toward self-sufficiency.”
This is not to say that Heartland Hope Mission is not focused on doling out as many high-quality meals and goods as possible. In 2018, the organization's pantry served food to more than 45,000 people and gave out clothing to an additional 22,000.
Because of Heartland Hope's success over the past few years, Salifou has garnered love and admiration from people in and around the Metro's charitable scene.
“Our Stuff-A-Truck is coming up in August which is our largest event,” says Salifou. “Volunteers will be at all the Omaha Hy-Vee [locations] asking customers if they will buy a $5 or $10 bag of food to help families in need.”
“Feed-A-Family is our other big event and that happens on Oct. 10. It is a casual barbecue event where we hear testimonials [from] clients who have been helped by Heartland Hope Mission.”
There may even be a fireworks stand popping up at some point.
“We don't know if we'll have one this year,” he says. “The city decides which nonprofits that apply get to run one. It was a lot of work and takes a lot of volunteers, but it's also a lot of fun.”
Although working with nonprofits takes a lot of time and effort, he has a cheerleader in his own home who understands his passion.
“Dodji is great at bringing projects to life,” says Chelsea Salifou, his wife and the CEO of Heartland Hope Mission. “He is very compassionate and has a huge heart for the clients we serve.”
Even though his job has him working around the clock, in and out of the office, Dodji says he can't picture himself doing anything else.
“Working at Heartland Hope Mission is a blessing,” he says. “Our clients know we love them and it is great to be able to be part of their lives and part of their success. We are changing Omaha one family at a time.”
Visit heartlandhopemission.org for more information.This article was printed in the June 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.