Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2010 | 2 a.m.
Looks like a good crowd today. Upward of 100 people are lined up outside in the unseasonably warm October afternoon, but inside Wayne Carrington is the one working up a sweat. It’s a Thursday afternoon, when the food pantry run by Living Faith Assembly hands out the groceries, and it takes an incredible effort to pull it all together.
“Those guys,” Wayne says, pointing out several men in bright blue shirts emblazoned with Greek letters, “they’re from a fraternity at UNLV. They just called, wanted to help.” It’s not a huge room, and it’s filled with people, food and a swirl of activity; standing still is the same as getting in the way.
There have to be 15, 18, 20 volunteers — it’s hard to get an accurate count, since the staging operation sprawls out of this room, down a hallway and outside. The frat guys and the rest are breaking down the donated food, filling the boxes that will be handed out beginning at 4:30 — an hour from now. A couple hundred people are expected.
Living Faith Assembly, 4560 E. Charleston Blvd., is one of nearly 300 food pantries supplied by Three Square, the 4-year-old, seriously effective anti-hunger nonprofit organization. Places like this are where supply meets sadly persistent demand. The food is donated, with a small asterisk: The pantries pay 9 cents a pound for meat, to help defray overhead costs.
Wayne explains the pantry’s philosophy. “Our attitude is, it’s their food, they’re entitled to it,” he says of the folks who’ve been slowly forming the line outside for hours. He wants to preserve some dignity here. “We don’t make them feel like they’re begging. They’re not here for a handout.”
Well, they are, of course — many because the economy sucks, others because we’ve let the social safety net fray, some undoubtedly because Sharron Angle isn’t 100 percent wrong about people. Still, no matter how many times you say “bootstrap,” not everyone can overcome their circumstances. They need help.
Right now the deafening squawk of election discourse is reaching its peak as candidates sound-bite one another over who can better fix the economy, over who cares more about Nevadans in trouble. Meanwhile, here’s a roomful of people actually doing something. Harry Reid can portray Angle as a cold ideologue unconcerned about real suffering; Angle can attack Reid for living in a flashy D.C. condo while Nevadans struggle. Meanwhile, Mitch, the guy in charge of the meat, is making sure a few hundred people can make chili or Hamburger Helper this week.
They’ve been at it all day. Trucks have delivered about 15,000 pounds of food. Wayne gestures to the contents of a typical food box: meat, fruit, bread, milk, a snack; out back, at stop No. 2, the clients will get a box of produce, too. Twenty boxes are supplied for families of eight, the other 190 or so for families of four. No one’s kidding themselves that this is a week’s worth — “three, four days,” Wayne says. “We’re a stopgap.”
Out back, volunteers fill the produce boxes. One is a young guy named Chris. He started coming here to work off community service, and when that was done he kept coming anyway. He’s all over this produce operation. That’s another positive byproduct of the process.
Are there scammers? Oh, yeah. “You’ll get a husband and a wife (who come in separately) and both will say they have a family of six,” he says. But Wayne was a cop for 38 years, so he has a sense of people and a few investigative skills, and he’s able to ferret out a lot of potential abuse.
“All we ask them to do is tell the truth,” Wayne says. Also, to be in the computer database. This operation is highly organized — everyone fills out a form with their information and picture, and claims for food are checked against that paperwork.
It’s after 4 now. Out in the parking lot the line is growing while random family members roam the lot to alleviate the waiting. Disabled people and elderly clients wait patiently for the doors to open; they’re allowed in out of the sun a few minutes early.
“It’s the kindness of the people,” says Mike, an affable white-hair near the head of the line, when asked why he prefers this food pantry to others. “I’m happy to come here. And they give you the good stuff, too — some of what the other places give you isn’t fit to eat.”
“They don’t treat you like lowlifes,” he adds.
“Some places treat you like dirt,” chimes in Pat, who recently had heart surgery.
“Very rude,” agrees Miguel.
It’s almost 4:30. Inside, the volunteers link hands and a young woman leads a prayer, blessing their work and imploring the Lord to keep any demons at bay. (Although this is a church, under Three Square’s rules it can’t be a pray-to-play operation: Believers and atheists get the same amount of food.)
The first clients shuffle in, take a load off. Wayne takes his seat behind the main table to begin this week’s distribution. He greets the first man in line, Manuel, and the rewarding part of the afternoon begins.