Las Vegas Sun

June 22, 2017

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THE ECONOMY:

Local hardship, sharp relief

Las Vegans in need turn out by hundreds for food in tough times

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Leila Navidi

Rosetta Oryema waits for a ride home with 12 boxes of Thanksgiving food and her grandchildren Ulyesses Jimerson, 2, center, and Prince Zon Paul Richardson, 1, during a food giveaway Monday at Doolittle Park sponsored and organized by Power 88 radio, City Councilman Ricki Barlow, Choice Center, Hope For The Homeless Ministries and Feed The Children. Oryema was picking up food for several households.

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House of Knowledge Christian Academy students, from left, Kyle Jackson, 15; Justine Scott, 17; Terry McDowell, 14; and Dominique Barker, 15, and volunteer Timothy Barbar, far right, load boxes of food onto tables during an event Monday at Doolittle Park for families in need. More than 1,500 people accepted donations, organizers said.

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The line stretches around the park's baseball diamond Monday. People began waiting for the food two hours before the giveaway began, and Las Vegas City Council-man Ricki Barlow said turnout dwarfed that of a similar event two years ago.

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Debra Loeb waits for her ride Monday, her boxes of food piled up on her sister-in-law's wheelchair. The istribution was thanks to a group from locally based ChoiceCenter Worldwide University that had raised $57,000.

The line of hundreds of Las Vegas’ working poor stretched around Doolittle Park’s baseball field and into its outfield before looping back.

For five hours Monday, grandmothers stood with children and grandchildren, dads with sons — just about every manner of family you could find — each awaiting a turn to take home two boxes of food.

None needed an economics expert to tell them how bad.

Born and raised in Las Vegas, Angelitte Poole, 29, recently lost her job collecting on overdue loans.

It wasn’t that business was down. Just the opposite, in fact. Poole’s problem was that the more struggling people she had to hassle about paying their bills, the less she wanted to do it.

“I wasn’t hitting my quota of $500 a day,” said Poole, in line with her mom, Janice. “It just got kind of depressing. Now I want a job, but all these temp agencies want me to pay them before I even get a job.”

In the early afternoon, Poole was about 280th in line for the handouts. But organizers said more than 1,500 people took home donation boxes before the end of the day. The line started forming at 8 a.m. in front of Doolittle Community Center, at 1950 J St., two hours before distribution began.

And these were not homeless people, Robyn Williams, one of the organizers, noted, adding that people brought in verification of their income and birth certificates for their children.

“Somebody told me about it two weeks ago,” said James Williams, a 43-year-old father of one. “I’m new to here, new to Vegas, so this is really, really going to help out.”

James Williams transferred here six months ago to help his mother, then recently lost his job as a machine operator for a cup manufacturer that closed its local operation. He’s now living on unemployment compensation, which comes to $335 a week.

“Not that surprised,” Williams said when asked about all the people in line. “People need this. Money is very tight. My own unemployment’s about to run out.”

A dozen or so people back, barber Demetrius Wills, 26, and his 4-year-old son, Amir, stood quietly.

“This is the best time for something like this,” said Wills, who has two more kids, 1 and 2, at home. He hopes to open his own barbershop, Kings and Queens, in December, he said, but “it’s really hard out there.”

So hard that Monday’s event dwarfed a similar one two years ago, said Las Vegas City Councilman Ricki Barlow, who helped with the food distribution.

That previous time, “we were done in three hours,” he recalled.

A few miles away, Clark County Commissioner Lawrence Weekly was seeing the same kind of need, but in a different way.

At the Martin Luther King Community Resource Center, Weekly gave away 350 turkeys with trimmings Monday afternoon. A year ago, he had about 500 turkeys to give away.

This year, he had to turn away 200 people, he said.

“We were very fortunate in previous years, because we had lots more people who were willing to step up and help,” he said. “But with the economy, turkeys are more expensive and trying to raise funds isn’t as easy.”

The need is so enormous Three Square is on pace to give away 10 million pounds of food costing about five times what the organization had expected to spend this year.

Julie Murray, Three Square’s chief executive, said her organization’s $250,000 food budget was spent by late spring. It now expects to spend $1.3 million for food this year. Murray said fundraising will cover most of the additional expense.

Organizations buy food staples from Three Square for 9 cents a pound. And about 80 percent of the valley’s supermarkets donate food that has 48 hours to expire.

With the community’s need growing and corporate giving dipping, Murray finds it heartening that an equal or greater amount of giving is coming from individuals and organizations.

The distribution at Doolittle, for example, came by way of one of the classes of ChoiceCenter Worldwide University, a Las Vegas-based “personal effectiveness, training and coaching” business that has been around almost 11 years.

Over four days, and as part of their learning experience, the “LV 87” leadership team of ChoiceCenter raised $57,000, then used the money to buy six truckloads of food and toiletries from Feed the Children, in Oklahoma City, said Robyn Williams, ChoiceCenter’s chief executive.

“People are seeing their neighbors and friends are being laid off,” Murray said, “and food is one charitable cause that people are still able to donate to.”

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