Getting food on the table in a pandemic

Food banks and distribution centers still scrambling, and still seeking donations

Volunteers distributing food outside Whitney Elementary School early in the pandemic crisis. Multiple food distribution sites are still up and running in Nevada. (Photo: Jeniffer Solis)

Months into the pandemic, many Nevada households are still struggling with food insecurity, and food distribution centers are still trying to meet the need.

“COVID-19 has greatly exacerbated this issue,” said Democratic Assemblywoman Lesley Cohen, during a meeting of the Legislative Committee on Health Care Wednesday.

Food insecurity is defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as the inability of a household to consistently provide enough food – generally three meals a day – for every person to live a healthy, active life.

“Since the pandemic began we know there were people who knew within a week of not having a paycheck, people who have never had to utilize food banks, were looking for places where they could go to get fed,” Cohen said.

Prior to the pandemic nearly 40,000 households in Nevada were already struggling with hunger, according to 2018 data from the United States Department of Agriculture. 

The extent to which the pandemic has exacerbated food insecurity in Nevada may not be fully recognized. A recent report by Feeding America, a nationwide network of more than 200 food banks, analyzed how food insecurity will increase in 2020 due to covid for the overall population and children by state, county, and congressional district.

Nevada was ranked eighth in states with the highest projected food insecurity rates for 2020, due to the state having the largest projected increase in unemployment because of the pandemic. Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District had one of the highest projected increases of food insecure people in the nation.

That same report also projected that in 2020 Nevada would have the nation’s third highest increase in childhood food insecurity, with a projected 13 percent increase.

“Food insecurity is a very complex issue and while there are a number of factors that contribute to an individual’s food insecurity there is a strong relationship between food insecurity and unemployment,” Cohen said.

The unemployment rate among low-income populations makes it more difficult for them to meet basic household needs including food, said Cohen, adding that additional state data show that children with unemployed parents have higher rates of food insecurity than those with employed parents.

While Nevada’s unemployment rate has improved in recent months, it is still higher than any prior recession at 14 percent, significantly higher than the national average of 10 percent, according to July data from the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation (DETR).

In the wake of the Great Recession Nevada attempted make some strides in addressing food insecurity, in part through the creation in 2014 of a Council on Food Security.

With the pandemic and its accompanying economic upheaval, however, donation programs, school districts and charitable groups have scrambled to keep up with increased demand for assistance.

Places for people to get help

Ashanti Lewis, advocacy manager of Three Square Food Bank, said the organization was currently accepting all donations including canned goods and fresh groceries at all distribution locations.

Three Square Food Bank currently has about 30 mobile distribution sites per week through a partnership with the County School District and other pantries and is looking for more volunteers to handle the increase in demand. 

“I’m sure many people have seen our distributions on the news. We have several hundred cars at many of them,” said Lewis.

Drive-thru distribution centers are open throughout Southern Nevada, and providers have compiled a list of all sites including hours of operation is. Walk-in pantries for those without a vehicle are also available across the valley.

Those who need assistance finding food or for seniors over 60 years of age in need of home-delivered groceries can reach Three Square Center at (702) 765- 4030 or by emailing [email protected]

Three Square Food Bank also offers help to households with referrals to other assistance programs including Medicaid, and housing assistance as well as help with applications for benefits including the Energy Assistance Program (EAP) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps.

The pandemic has complicated the Three Square’s advocacy efforts, at one point forcing the organization to suspend their Meet Up and Eat Up program in order to follow social distancing guidelines putting most of their childhood nutrition programs at a standstill.

“We primarily work with volunteers. They need to help to package kids meals and we just cannot have people in the facility at this time,” Lewis said. “We are working to bring bank childhood nutrition.”

In Northern Nevada the Food Bank of Northern Nevada offers similar services, distributing food to local food pantries. Distribution sites in Washoe County can be found on their website.

The food bank also offers NAP Outreach to help connect eligible clients to state benefits. Those interested can fill out a form on their website.

“There are a lot of places for people to get help,” said Shane Piccinini with the Food Bank of Northern Nevada.

“There are no income requirements to get access to our food,” Piccinini said. “No questions asked. We will absolutely assist them.”

Jeniffer Solis
Reporter | Jeniffer was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada where she attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas before graduating in 2017 with a B.A in Journalism and Media Studies. While at UNLV she was a senior staff writer for the student newspaper, the UNLV Scarlet and Gray Free Press, and a news reporter for KUNV 91.5 FM, covering everything from the Route 91 shooting to UNLV housing. She has also contributed to the UNLV News Center and worked as a production engineer for several KUNV broadcasts before joining the Nevada Current. She’s an Aries.