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August 28, 2014

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Economy eating into charity

Food pantry, like many businesses, is struggling to pay its monthly bills and rent

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Tiffany Brown

Joyce Eatman founded Ladies Advocating Christian Entertainment 19 years ago. A couple of years later, she decided to make fighting hunger the group’s priority, and LACE became a five-day-a-week food pantry. In February LACE fed 150 families, but in this economy, there’s no guarantee it will last another month.

Inside the warehouse, Joyce Eatman is shopping for dozens of families, hundreds of people. Into her basket she tosses two-day-old pastries, meat frozen on the verge of expiration, battered bars of soap and breast-feeding supplies in damaged packaging. All of this is free. Another 58 cases of food — canned stew and chili, pinto beans and rice, peanut butter and jelly — cost 9 cents a pound from the food bank.

It’s a bargain, but it’s another bill Eatman doesn’t know how she’ll pay, along with the phone bill and the rent.

“We may be nonprofit, but our landlord isn’t,” Eatman says.

Eatman is president of LACE, a small charity with an office downtown, near Sahara and Eastern avenues. It is one of 240 nonprofit agencies that tap Three Square’s food bank. These little charities — some, like LACE, called food pantries — distribute food to the needy. LACE is on the brink of closing, overwhelmed by demand, short on donations.

Sometimes both problems come at once, like on Tuesday when a young couple came to the office. Tiffany Wilson and Jonathan Seward used to work as telemarketers next door to LACE. When they got off shift, they would stop by and stock shelves, maybe donate a dollar or two. But six months ago they lost their jobs. Now, they’re living in a friend’s RV, sharing his food stamps and asking for just enough food from LACE to see them into next week, when they plan to go home to family in Missouri.

They don’t have a referral from a social agency, but what can Eatman do? Deny them food?

“Thank you, Miss Joyce,” Tiffany says, holding a bag of canned goods.

Eatman, her daughters and friends founded LACE 19 years ago to feed the needy at Thanksgiving and maybe Christmas. The charity collected goods as admission to wholesome variety shows and musicals. Hence the name: Ladies Advocating Christian Entertainment. The shows lasted two years, until LACE decided hunger was a more pressing need than entertainment and became a five-day-a-week food pantry for people in its neighborhood and those sent by welfare agencies.

Its money came from its founders, and what they could scrounge from friends, family, co-workers, church congregations, other charities and fundraisers. These days LACE is selling 2,000 old copies of Life magazine on eBay.

When she used to work at Caesars Palace dealing cards, Eatman donated money and her spare time to LACE. Now that she’s on Social Security, she can only offer her time and an aching heart.

“If you have ever seen a hungry child, you will never be the same. And I can’t take it,” Eatman says. So when someone calls for food, she asks that they find a babysitter and come to the office without the children.

She’s seen grandparents skimping on their medicine to feed their grandchildren, and the children who can’t think in school and the parents too weak to find work.

A couple of years ago LACE fed 70 families a month. This February it fed 150.

And next month, well, who knows if the doors will even be open?

“I’m not going to say if LACE closes, the people of Nevada will have no place to go. There will still be places to go,” Eatman says.

“They will just have one less place to go.”

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