Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013 | 2 a.m.
With the holiday season fast approaching, local nonprofits are marshalling volunteers, stocking their food pantries and collecting supplies to provide coats, toys, turkeys and other goods to needy families over the next five weeks.
It’s already been a busy year for these organizations. Although donor support has remained strong, their leaders say the number of Las Vegans in need remains high in the wake of the recession despite modest improvements in the economy. It’s a trend that shows no sign of going away.
“All of the agencies I talk to say they’re serving a lot of new people. We’re still seeing a large influx of first-time clients into emergency food system,” said Brian Burton, CEO of Three Square food bank. “We keep hoping to see this thing taper off over time, but it hasn’t shown any signs of doing that.”
The holiday season will make financial struggles for many Las Vegas families more acute. Holiday travel, children off from school and other seasonal expenses can stretch already-thin budgets, leading many residents to turn to the valley’s various nonprofits for a helping hand.
In turn, these nonprofits say they rely on the community to meet the increased demand. Altogether, more than 10,000 toys will be distributed to children, more than 12,000 turkeys will be given out and more than 6,000 volunteers will lend their time during the holiday season.
“We’re meeting more need than we ever have before because of generosity of community,” said John Fogal, director of development at the Las Vegas Rescue Mission. “But there’s always more to be done. There’s more need than we’re able to meet.”
Here’s a look at what six nonprofits are doing during the holidays and how you can help:
Salvation Army of Southern Nevada
A sharp increase in demand has taxed the Salvation Army’s local food pantry, heightening the need for donations during an especially busy holiday season.
The food pantry normally serves about 120 families per day, but that number has steadily grown and is now about 265 families per day, spokeswoman Leslee Rogers said. Through 10 months this year, the food pantry has served more than twice as many people as it did in all of 2012, she said.
Food donations are always needed, Rogers said, but often a monetary donation can go even further.
“Say I went to the grocery store and bought 10 boxes of cereal for $20 dollars. If I had given that $20 to Salvation Army, we pay about 9 cents per pound of food at Three Square, so for every dollar we would probably get 10 boxes of cereal,” she said. “It goes so much further if we do that.”
The nonprofit also is putting on several other holiday-specific events, including passing out turkey dinners to 400 families and providing toys to 6,000 children through its Christmas Angel program.
The Salvation Army is also having two Thanksgiving dinners, one starting at 3 p.m. Wednesday and another from 1:30-3:30 p.m. Thursday.
Toys and food can be donated at the Salvation Army’s campus at 1581 N. Main St. Monetary donations can be made online or by calling 702-649-2374.
The agency is seeking volunteers to help pack toys and to fill out its team of bell-ringers who raise money for the organization during the holidays.
Three Square will be providing much of the food other nonprofits give out through their food pantries during the holiday season.
“We’re kind of like the Federal Reserve. We supply food for agencies that touch end users,” said Brian Burton, CEO of Three Square. “We’re bringing in and distributing record amounts of food from California and Arizona.”
The agency will supply about 12,000 turkeys to other nonprofits this holiday season, plus another 5 million or so pounds of food during November and December.
“We start seeing more people coming through food pantries that we supply this time of year because of different stressors that are on families during the holidays,” Burton said.
More than 200 Three Square-affiliated food drives are bringing in supplies for the organization, but its biggest holiday fundraiser involves corporate sponsors that match every dollar donated by the public.
“We’re able to turn $1 into six meals. Normally it’s three meals,” he said. “You’re basically sending that dollar across the whole valley. It’s wonderful to see each dollar stretched so far.”
The holidays tend to heighten people’s awareness of the needs of the community’s less fortunate, Burton said, making it a good time to engage donors for year-round support.
“We like to remind people that hunger is not seasonal and that we need their help year round,” he said.
Donations to Three Square can be made online, at one of the affiliated food drives or by dropping off supplies at the agency’s building, 4190 N. Pecos Road.
Las Vegas Rescue Mission
The nonprofit plans to provide turkeys and other Thanksgiving food staples to 2,500 families, while its toy drive will help another 1,500 families in December.
“We’re also collecting coats and blankets to make sure the homeless have some warm clothing to help them out when it gets colder,” said John Fogal, the mission’s director of development.
Toiletries are also always needed and in high demand, he said.
The past year has seen an increase in the number of people seeking services from his agency, Fogal said.
“I feel like we’re seeing more people. I don’t know if that’s more people in need or if our capacity has grown to help more people,” he said. “More than anything, it’s a shift within the numbers. More and more families are experiencing homelessness or significant need rather than individuals.”
The rescue mission will host a Thanksgiving dinner from 3-6 p.m. today and a Christmas dinner Dec. 24 in its dining hall at 480 W. Bonanza Road
Fogal said the agency requests that toys, which will be distributed on Dec. 21, be new and unwrapped.
“We’ll do all the wrapping,” he said.
Help of Southern Nevada
The list to sign up for one of the 1,300 frozen turkeys and accompanying groceries distributed by Help of Southern Nevada filled up faster than in years past, Community Outreach Manager Abby Quinn said.
The nonprofit has been partnering with local businesses and schools to launch nearly 100 food drives to help stock its pantry. It just completed a turkey drive at three area Smith’s grocery stores.
In December, Help’s focus shifts, with the agency planning to distribute toys, gift cards, bicycles and more to 24,000 children. To help collect all those goods, the agency is partnering with a local radio station for a 12-day, around-the-clock toy drive in the parking lot of NV Energy at Jones Boulevard and Sahara Avenue. Volunteers are still needed for that event, Quinn said.
United Way of Southern Nevada
United Way doesn’t run any specific holiday programs, but the busy season means the volunteers the agency connects with other nonprofits are in high demand.
“No question it’s busier,” said Cass Palmer, United Way of Southern Nevada’s president. “Annually, we’ve got about 6,000 volunteers with us. During November and December it spikes and we get an extra 1,000 to 1,500.”
Volunteers are paired with one of dozens of organizations across the valley, including Catholic Charities, Help, the Clark County School District and more.
United Way has several staff members dedicated to helping people find an organization that fits their skills.
“It just depends on what you want to do,” Palmer said.
The value of a volunteer often far exceeds a similar donation of money or items to a nonprofit, he said.
“Most nonprofits would much rather have a volunteer provide their own personal time. It’s amazing how a body can do so much more than a $25 donation” he said. “If they only have 10 volunteers, maybe they can help about 100 people. If you get 100 volunteers, then you can help 1,000, it’s an economy of scale.”
People interested in volunteering can visit United Way’s website for a list of opportunities, or call 892-2300.
Last year’s holiday season for Catholic Charities was marred by the unexpected death of longtime CEO Monsignor Patrick Leary.
A year later, interim CEO Thomas Roberts has taken over full time and the organization is looking toward the future.
Two of the agency’s biggest needs during this holiday season are turkeys and volunteers.
“If someone is able to donate a turkey, that just helps provide for someone who does not have the means to do that,” said spokeswoman Leslie Carmine. “We’re looking to give out a turkey, a pie and all the Thanksgiving fixings that you would have with a traditional meal.”
Catholic Charities plans to help about 4,000 families through its food pantry, plus deliver Thanksgiving meals to 1,300 homebound seniors.
Catholic Charities will host a Thanksgiving dinner from 10-11:30 a.m. Thursday. It’s the second of two Thanksgiving dinners for the agency; the first was Tuesday.
Catholic Charities will serve holiday meals Dec. 15 and on Christmas day.
The agency also is collecting toys for more than 5,000 children, plus coats and other clothing.
Donations can be dropped off between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. at the nonprofit’s main campus, 1501 Las Vegas Blvd. North, or at one of its two valley thrift stores, 915 S. Rainbow Blvd. or 4840 S. Eastern Ave.