Food insecurity in Nevada not going away, says Three Square exec

Distribution lines ‘aren’t getting longer, but they aren’t shrinking’

food lines
Vehicles line up at a drive-thru Three Square Food Bank emergency food distribution site at Palace Station Hotel & Casino April 16.(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Since the start of the health crisis, which caused businesses to close and unemployment numbers to skyrocket, Three Square Food Bank has consistently served close to 3,500 cars per day at its emergency food distribution sites. 

Even when businesses open back up, the number of people in need of food won’t stop, says Larry Scott, the Chief Operating Officer for Three Square.

Feeding America, a national network of food banks and meal programs that includes Three Square, estimated prior to the pandemic that 12 percent of Nevadans were food insecure.

“We already had 272,000 food insecure people prior to the virus, but that number will well exceed 300,000 maybe up to 320,000,” Scott said. “What was clearly once a problem for low income people is now crossing economic classes. The audience we are serving is growing from people living in poverty to people who lost employment and have fallen on hard times.”

When the CARES Act was being debated in March, advocates along with some lawmakers pushed to increase the maximum Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (SNAP) — formerly known as food stamps — by 15 percent as a way to combat food insecurity exacerbated by the health crisis. 

“SNAP is this nation’s first line of defense against hunger, and for every meal that the Feeding America network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meals sites provide, SNAP provides nine,” said Kate Leone, Chief Government Relations Officer for Feeding America, in a statement following the passage of the CARES Act.

The Nevada Division of Welfare and Supportive Services reported in March it saw a 400 percent increase in applications from the previous year. 

Yet, additional funding for SNAP wasn’t included in the final stimulus package.

“By not increasing SNAP benefits, lawmakers missed an opportunity to help families facing hunger and, unfortunately, food banks will bear the burden of this oversight,” Leone said.

Nonprofits that offer food banks or meal programs, like Three Square, have already been trying to keep up with the demand of people in need as well as operating safely through social distancing. 

As at food distribution sites across the country, Southern Nevada has seen miles-long lines of people waiting for assistance. 

Three Square has operated drive-thru locations since March. Prominent locations, including Palace Station, are still receiving a high volume of cars, Scott said.

“They aren’t getting longer but they’re not shrinking,” he added.

Three Square considered adding another location close by to accommodate higher wait times at heavily trafficked sites, but the organization has to also weigh any decision with the fact businesses will be opening soon. 

“It is likely we’ll lose Station properties once they open back up,” he said. “We considered having them at malls, but they too will open up. Then those sites would have to be moved quickly. It’s been a bit of a flux right now with businesses likely to open back up. Right now, it seems the school sites are the safest bets since schools won’t likely open again until the fall.”

Three Square is expecting to distribute more than 5 million pounds of food per month, which increased by more than 1 million pounds from previous months. That increase, Scott noted, is another obstacle the organization has faced. 

After casinos and hotels shut down in March, Three Square was able to acquire food from properties to bulk up its supplies. That helped the nonprofit get through April.

Three Square has also had to use monetary donations to buy more food to get through the month. The nonprofit is working to secure more funding and donations to purchase additional supplies to last through May.  

Scott said Three Square anticipates receiving an additional 1.4 million pounds a month in federal commodities by June, which will help the nonprofit maintain the amount of food it distributes. 

Lines open at 8 a.m. and remain open until supplies run out. 

Other nonprofits, as well as the Clark County School District, are also distributing food across Southern Nevada.

Click here for a list of CCSD food distribution sites

Click here for a list of Three Square Food Bank distribution sites

Click here for a list of The Just One Project distribution sites

Click here for a list of Station Casinos food distribution sites

Click here for a list of Other Community Resources

For a list of distribution sites, visit www.threesquare.org/help

Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle (MJ to some) has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years.  He started his career at View Neighborhood News, the community edition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. During his seven years with the R-J, he won several first place awards from the Nevada Press Association and was named its 2011 Journalist of Merit. He left the paper in 2017 and spent a year as a freelance journalist accumulating bylines anywhere from The Washington Post to Desert Companion. While he covers a range of topics from homelessness to the criminal justice system, he gravitates toward stories about race relations and LGBTQ issues. Born and mostly raised in Las Vegas, Lyle graduated from UNLV with a degree in Journalism and Media Studies. He is currently working on his master's in Communications through an online program at Syracuse University. In his spare time, Lyle cooks through Ina Garten recipes in hopes of one day becoming the successor to the Barefoot Contessa throne. When he isn’t cooking (or eating), he also enjoys reading, running and re-watching episodes of “Parks and Recreation.” He is also in the process of learning kickboxing.