Friday, Nov. 16, 2012 | 2 a.m.
From turkey drives to toy giveaways, local nonprofits are gearing up for a busy holiday season, a time when the struggles of Las Vegas’ neediest families often are most acutely felt.
Around town, nonprofits are launching holiday-specific programs and expanding year-round services to meet increased demand.
“We provide more. The holidays can be hard when you’re by yourself or on the street. They seem to be the time when that weighs heavier on you,” said John Fogal, director of development at the Las Vegas Rescue Mission. “We try to go that extra step to provide for people and help take that emotional weight off.”
With unemployment still plaguing the region, the need for services remains high with no sign of shrinking, Fogal said.
“More so than overall demand, what really stands out to us is we’ve seen a growing number of families impacted and needing help as opposed to that single individual of a few years ago,” he said.
Hunger is one of the most-pressing issues of the holidays, said Erica Thompson, director of corporate giving at Three Square food bank. More than 300,000 people in Clark County struggle with food insecurity and may not know where their next meal is coming from, she said.
“This is our food drive time of year,” she said. “We see a jump in the amount of food we’re distributing in the holiday months.”
Hundreds of businesses and organizations around Las Vegas partner with Three Square and other nonprofits to collect goods for food pantries. That altruistic spirit extends to financial donations and volunteering, too, which helps nonprofits cope with the increased need.
Last year, United Way of Southern Nevada saw an increase of 1,200 volunteers during November and December, and a similar increase is expected this year, CEO Cass Palmer said.
“It’s the spirit of the season, so to speak," he said. "People say: ‘Wait a minute. It’s time for me to give back.’”
In the coming weeks, Las Vegans will have plenty of opportunities to give back by donating time, food or money to local nonprofits. Here’s a look at what several nonprofits are doing during the holidays and how you can help:
Las Vegas Rescue Mission
Throughout the year, the rescue mission serves 1,000 meals a day to the city’s homeless and hungry while also offering an emergency food pantry that supplies three to four days' worth of food for 350 families per month. Even more families are served during the holiday months, director of development John Fogal said.
The organization, at 480 W. Bonanza Road, will host its annual Thanksgiving dinner on its campus Wednesday, followed by a Nov. 24 turkey drive at the former site of the Moulin Rouge casino, 900 W. Bonanza Road, where it will give away 2,500 turkey dinners to families in need. The rescue mission is collecting canned goods and other nonperishable items at hundreds of locations throughout the valley to help stock the pantry for the holidays.
Fogal said small donations of even a few cans of food quickly add up and help the rescue mission provide for as many families as possible.
The rescue mission also is collecting toys for its Dec. 15 holiday celebration, which will include cookies, hot chocolate and more than 5,000 toys given away, he said.
United Way of Southern Nevada
As nonprofits increase services and host special events during the holidays, more than 1,000 additional volunteers are needed to help, Palmer said. United Way of Southern Nevada pairs volunteers with hundreds of nonprofits in the community.
“We’re really pushing volunteerism. It’s the right thing to do for the community, and it’s easy to do, whether it’s half an hour, a week or a year,” he said.
Many people volunteer for the first time during the holidays, but once they start, they often find the experience addicting, said Jacob Murdock, manager of the United Way’s Volunteer Center.
“It’s making that effort the first time that’s hard. … People tend to get hooked,” he said. “The holidays are a great introduction for volunteers because they get to see the core mission of an organization.”
Hundreds of holiday-specific volunteer opportunities are available at organizations such as the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth, Toys for Tots, Ronald McDonald House Charities and more, Murdock said.
People interested in volunteering can visit United Way’s website for a listing of opportunities or call 892-2300.
Three Square food bank helps provide food to thousands of Las Vegans year-round through a network of more than 600 partners that include food pantries, soup kitchens, churches and after-school programs.
In the valley, 1 in 6 people struggles with food insecurity, a need that intensifies during the holidays as families stretch to make ends meet, said Erica Thompson, director of corporate giving.
Food drives during November and December help bring in more food to meet the demand, Thompson said. High-protein items such as meal starters, soups, canned meats or canned vegetables always are in need.
Three Square will distribute much of the food it collects around Thanksgiving, when it will give away thousands of turkey dinners.
Donations to the organization’s Fight Holiday Hunger effort are matched dollar-for-dollar by corporate sponsors, helping Three Square combat hunger year-round, Thompson said.
“Hunger is a year-round issue. It could affect your friends, your neighbors, your co-workers,” she said. “I think it’s more at the front of people’s minds during the holidays. Maybe it’s because they’re sitting down to holiday dinners themselves.”
Help of Southern Nevada
As it prepares to distribute thousands of turkeys and toys during the holiday season, Help of Southern Nevada relies on an increase in giving, especially smaller donations, to help meet demand.
“You don’t have to spend a ton of money to help out a family,” said Abby Quinn, community outreach director. “Every little bit helps, whether it’s a $10 donation or a couple of cans of food.”
Help is collecting food Saturday at a Turkey-a-thon and will distribute it to needy families Monday and Tuesday as part of its Thanksgiving giveaway. Quinn said turkeys are especially needed — Help plans to give out 1,200, along with a week’s worth of food to families that apply for the program.
“Turkeys are the hardest to come by,” she said. “If we get more, then we open it up and help more people.”
For the December holidays, Help sets up a makeshift toy store and helps 3,000 families provide gifts for their children.
The nonprofit also facilitates an adopt-a-family program, in which donors wanting to take on a larger commitment help support a family during the holidays by providing clothes and toys.
Salvation Army of Southern Nevada
Whether it’s ringing a bell and collecting money or helping distribute the thousands of toys the organization is collecting, the Salvation Army offers plenty of ways to give back during the holiday season.
The organization is running several holiday-specific programs, including a toy drive, an adopt-a-family program and a food-card giveaway. Its army of bell ringers also will take to the streets in late November to raise money for the nonprofit’s efforts.
Major Rhonda Lloyd said the organization, which will help 3,000 families and 6,000 children in the valley during the holidays, is especially in need of seasonal foods, baby food, diapers, small toys and gift cards.
Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada
For people in need of food and fellowship during the holidays, Catholic Charities is hosting a number of dinners and sponsoring several holiday-specific programs.
The nonprofit is collecting food at its main campus, 1501 Las Vegas Blvd. North, and at locations throughout the valley. It will bundle the food into holiday baskets for 4,000 families.
“Most of the clients we provide services to would not be able to celebrate a holiday like Thanksgiving unless we are able to provide it to them,” spokeswoman Leslie Carmine said. “The more donated items we receive, the more we can give out.”
Catholic Charities is hosting community dinners on Tuesday, Nov. 22; Dec. 16; and Dec. 25.
Its other holiday programs include Phone Home for the Holidays, which allows anyone to make free phone calls to reconnect with friends or family, and a toy drive.