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January 27, 2015

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Need for food reaches new demographics


Three-year-old Kelly Cruz Garcia holds a bag of rolls as her mother, Maria Cruz Garcia, selects her food items at the Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada in North Las Vegas on Dec. 9, 2010.

In a small space on the second floor of the Promenade Mall, across Maryland Parkway from UNLV, something unusual is happening this semester. Close as it is to campus, it would be ideal for study groups or research collaborations.

But the space isn’t used for either of those. It’s a food bank for graduate students and UNLV employees.

The campus food bank — striking because of the popular image of universities as refuges from economic forces like those that have decimated the valley — is merely one sign of the difficulty some residents are having securing life’s most basic necessity.

The Vista Group, which owns the mall, donated the space after being approached by law professor Robert Correales, who chaired a university advisory group that wanted to help staff and graduate students struggling to make ends meet in light of the bad economy and state budget cuts.

Classified staff, consisting of groundskeepers, secretaries, “folks who actually keep the trains running on time, people you need to do the business of teaching and research,” were hit hard, Correales said. Their salaries, well below those of professors, suffered the same cuts as other state employees while the cost for benefits such as health insurance rose. Correales even heard unconfirmed stories of some staffers living out of their cars.

Established a few months ago, the pantry is operating without the assistance of central food banks because “the idea has been that we would ask our community to take care of ourselves.” In the first week of distribution, about 50 people over two days received food. A stock of about 3,000 items dwindled to 300.

“The commitment was so deep and the symbolism is so powerful,” Correales added. “Students and faculty wanted to show everyone we care.”

Elsewhere, Three Square, Southern Nevada’s central food bank, is also seeing an increase in need for free and low-cost food.

Brian Burton, president and CEO of Three Square, the Las Vegas Valley’s central food hub, said the organization is on target to distribute 25 million pounds of food this year, up from 10 million pounds in 2008. Three Square distributes the food with the help of 250 partners, including groups such as Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army.

A 2009 estimate put the number of Southern Nevadans who lack “food security,” which means they live in hunger or fear of starvation, at 300,000. Taking a two-month average, Burton said Three Square distributors are serving 106,000 people per month this year, up from 95,000 at the same time a year ago. Each of those people, however, may represent whole families in need.

“Even during the best of times, the food insecurity number was pretty large,” Burton said.

Three Square, he noted, will be affected by budget cuts in Congress. When school lunch subsidies are cut or food stamps are cut, that increases the number of people seeking help from Three Square. “We’re very nervous about what may happen in Washington,” Burton said.

Father Krier’s small Latin Mass Catholic Church, at Ogden Avenue and 9th Street, is in a decidedly un-redeveloped part of downtown Las Vegas. It serves people who haven’t a moment to wonder about what happens in Congress.

Krier says some are mentally ill and homeless. Some are prostitutes and drug dealers.

Two Wednesdays a month, they come for food. Krier, 53, sits by a stack of crushed cardboard boxes over three feet high that represents the 4,000 pounds of fruit and vegetables his church gave away that day last week. There were about 140 people this time; the monthly average is 325. When the church started food distribution five years ago, they’d get 30 people a month.

Fruit and vegetables from Three Square are free, while other staples such as peanut butter and canned goods are 9 cents a pound. Krier pays with $300 to $400 collected from his parish. Almost all who come for the food are not church members.

Some bring their children, who can watch a video while their parents wait for food. Some are literally starving. In those cases so they can eat right away, “we make it for them right here,” Krier says.

The need and suffering he sees doesn’t appear to get him down. Krier has been here 19 years, doing what he believes he is supposed to do.

“In a way, if we’re keeping people healthy and not starving, then they’re less likely to rob or steal to get something to eat,” he says. “God put us here downtown, so that’s our responsibility.”

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  1. There is an easy way to stock up on food to feed the hungry. Millions of Wild Hogs are running loose all over the nation, particularly in the Southern United States. If laws could be changed like they have been in Europe so that hunters would be allowed to process and donate the meat to food banks, we could put a good dent into hunger by filling cold storage food banks with Protein from Pork. Plus they could sell of Loins and Fat Back to Gourmet Restaurants that covet those cuts and generate cash to help buy more food.

    People want to eat, farmers are tired of seeing their crops & land destroyed, and guys with guns want to shoot things. Perfect match. Or would the Pork Council and Commodities Traders object that so much free meat would drive the already astronomically high price of pork bellies down and cost them profits?

  2. Mr. Lamy,

    I am one that will agree that everyone should be personally responsible for their actions and that includes taking care of any children they bring into this world.

    You go face to face with little 3 year old Kelly though when she is hungry and has no food and talk to her about life.

    It is not the fault hungry kids that they parents don't/can't/won't provide for them.

    I would rather 3 year old Kelly receive this food from a food bank that people willing donate to then starve. No child should have to know hunger in this town.

  3. This is just perfectly alright with some folks...

    and highlights the ignorance of MANY that ass-umed that ALL PUBLIC SECTOR EMPLOYEES are living 'high off the hog'.
    MANY are lower-level functionaries that were making subsistance-level wages BEFORE the cuts, especially when you factor in that some (if not many) are 'head of household' types, trying to support a family.
    All of this ignorant public sector bashing is so generic & thoughtless...
    just because a couple of local union shops that have a lot of members were awarded big-time raises & bennies during the boom *(ala police & fire) does not translate into "they're all getting RICH off the Taxpayer!"
    There is such a lack of common sense involved in the rhetoric today involving unions and public sector workers... it's really disheartening to many, especially those that are so marginalized as to having to resort to begging for food to make ends meet.

  4.'s to the point now where some of these public sector folks would be better off financially if they went on Welfare. What does that say about our society?

  5. Mr Lamy,
    Allowing a child to face hunger and even starvation (as you propose), no matter the family circumstances is irresponsible and unimaginable.
    I fully support doing whatever is necessary to create an avenue so any child will not face a life of drugs, prostitution, poverty and ignorance. And if to do that it takes a fairer distribution of wealth via taxation - so be it.
    And hopefully when they become a productive member of society they will not become bitter and heartless.

  6. Here's some more information people have asked me for via email.

    Food distribution sites:

    How or where to donate food or money to Three Square:

  7. "Especially in this land of luxury, of thousands of pounds of food thrown away daily, thousands of chefs and thousands of grocery stores with tons of food, the starving children are awful reminders of how good we have it generally, except the starving children"

    I worked in the deli department at a well-known grocery store chain here in the Midwest last year for a few months (it is similar to Albertson's who, btw, is under the same "corporate umbrella"). I was APPALLED at the food that was thrown away daily. I understand that the "expiration date" is important and it's a law that you can't allegedly sell anything past that date but...the department managers, as well as the employees, knew what the dates were. Instead of taking the things that had one more day left on the expiration date and putting them in the "self-serve section" to try and get that last penny out of a sale, why couldn't they just donate that food to a food bank? I saw hundreds and hundreds of dollars of food, which still could be eaten, tossed in the dumpsters on a daily basis (I actually had to do it myself on many occassions). I used to see the old ladies that worked at the store for 30 years fry/roast too much food on a daily basis thinking that the food would get sold but more times than not, it ended up in the trash - we're talking 8-10 roasted chickens, 15 lbs of fried chicken and potatoes, 10lbs of chicken wings. The newer employees like myself were always so appalled at these practices, but who were we??? I actually asked one day why, with another day (sometimes 2) left on the "sell by date", this food couldn't be donated? Well, forget that!!! I was told the corporate offices refuse to even consider doing something like that.

    I was taught since I was a child that it is a sin to throw away food. If I have leftovers that are not safe to eat, I give it to the wildlife outside instead of throwing into the trash. The racoons will eat anything!!! I guess it is the way of many in this country who have never had to pinch pennies to buy food to be so cavalier about those who cannot afford to eat. The "haves v. the have nots" attitude.

  8. Reporter Joe Schoenmann is pulling at the heartstrings of decent, charitable people, when he relates the tale of woe of starving people in Las Vegas.

    But what is his hidden motive for writing this article?

    His hidden motive has nothing to do with providing charity for poor people.

    His hidden motive is to subliminally propagate the Marxist wealth redistribution doctrine, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need."

    Mr. Schoenmann is a Marxist propagandist.

    We the People need to be on our guard against Marxist propagandists like reporter Joe Schoenmann.