Jon Thompson seldom gets a good look at the people he feeds and almost never gets to speak to them.
“It’s a shame we have to deliver by just dropping it, knocking on the door and walking away,” the UNLV medical student said of the five to twelve stops he makes a day, three to five days a week. “But that’s how it has to be because of the coronavirus.”
The people Thompson serves under the Delivering with Dignity Food program are at particular risk from COVID-19 due to the underlying health risks. As a result, its deliveries of donated meals from popular local restaurants are completely touch-free.
That day, however, he had the opportunity to hear some of their stories thanks to three recipients who agreed to speak to the review journal about the program – remotely, in masks, without letting anyone into their homes.
Patrick Bunts, whose age and underlying medical conditions made him “very anxious to go out in public,” happily offered cold drinks on a hot summer afternoon as he praised the Valencian Gold food he had received and shared through the program Thoughts on classic punk rock.
DJ Rindt couldn’t speak more than a word or two but insisted on coming to the door to thank Thompson.
Aiden Pina, 9, who came to the door in pajamas, said lasagna was his favorite food, far from being delivered with dignity. When asked about the last places he remembered before COVID-19 struck, he rattled off a number of hospitals, medical facilities and doctor’s offices where he was being treated for the cancer he is battling.
Each was referred to the program through a different agency. Everyone has a different story.
“It was a great opportunity to actually hear what their life is, their story, and the reasons we are delivering them,” Thompson said as he completed his deliveries for the day.
Understanding these stories and their ability to address them have made a profound change in the way Las Vegas addresses a food insecurity issue that has skyrocketed since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis.
“Our nonprofits have trusted relationships with our most vulnerable people,” said Punam Mathur of Delivering with Dignity, explaining why her group has partnered with organizations as diverse as Aid for AIDS in Nevada, Susan G. Komen and Teach for America to reach people who would benefit from the program.
“Trust in this relationship is very important. And for our most vulnerable person or family member, they manage layer by layer complexity, including a deadly virus, and they need to be connected to someone they trust, who can help them solve all myriad kinds of needs. “
The Three Square Food Bank also owes this cooperative approach to the shrinking queues in their drive-through pantries, which stretched for miles in April.
Larry Scott, chief operating officer of Three Square, said the “modest drop in demand at the drive-through locations” in recent months was due to his organization reconnecting with many independent agency partners that had temporarily ceased operations Protect volunteers from traffic Coronavirus.
“We went from 180 to 10 agency partners we distributed groceries to, and now we’re back to about a hundred delivering groceries,” said Scott.
“It’s really important to get back to that model,” said Scott. “Because when you drive through it is food, but it is impersonal. And so the person who wants to know where to fill out an application for SNAP – for grocery stamps – or where to get a mental health brief or (help with) substance abuse problems doesn’t really have that shoulder leaning on a drive-through. “
For Chefs4Vegas, which emerged from a group of local chefs who met on a dirt lot to discuss how to help feed neighbors struggling during the pandemic, by finding similar local partners, they found 1,500 Distribute boxes of products on site every week. When they read on social media that veterans were eating dog food in a rural Nevada town, they filled a 30-meter refrigerator truck with food and drove it to the town’s community center.
The group’s president, Jonathan Batista, said working with existing organizations but independence allowed it to meet growing needs while cutting red tape.
“(Some) larger organizations are asking you to prove your poverty,” said Batista, who received the food aid and remains sensitive to the outrage that may come with the situation. “It’s like, are you homeless? Prove it. Do you have a job? Prove it. How many children do you have? Prove that.
“We have no registration, no problems.”
While innovative models have helped reduce lines, Batista emphasized that now is not the time to get complacent.
“The lines have changed, but the need hasn’t changed,” he insisted.
Scott agreed, estimating that more than 20 percent of our community remains food unsafe, up from around 12 percent prior to this crisis. In May, Three Square distributed £ 5.4 million of groceries, up from £ 4.2 million in May 2019.
“I would best describe (before COVID-19) that we ran this marathon. We were fine. We were actually a bit ahead. And then suddenly we had to make a dead sprint out of it, ”he said. “But now it’s more of an Ironman. It’s more of a triathlon. Because it’s just so much bigger and can’t be remotely solved. “
Contact Al Mancini at amancini @ reviewjournal.com. Follow @AlManciniVegas on Twitter and Instagram.