People waiting in the line at Henderson food banks might be coming for the promise of meeting their family’s needs.
But sometimes, it’s more than that.
“It’s not just giving people food, it’s about giving hope,” said Ed Bruning, pastor at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, 59 Lynn Lane. “Sometimes people just need hope to help them get through life.”
For years, pastors, volunteers and charity workers in Henderson have offered assistance to the community while hearing countless stories of the struggle to find food.
“Some people are literally nervous to where their next meal is going to come from,” Bruning said. “That kind of stress can affect your job and your life. We have seen people cry because they are overwhelmed with the amount of food they get here.”
Bruning doesn’t foresee that need decreasing anytime soon, especially with recent cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps.
About $800 million per year has been cut from the program.
In Southern Nevada, 16.5 percent of people are food-insecure according to Three Square food bank, a nonprofit that combats food insecurity in Clark County.
“We have increased geometrically,” Bruning said.
Helping to address those problems, nonprofits and churches such as Our Savior’s Lutheran Church and Giving Life Ministries have worked to fill the need.
Lined up at 4 p.m. on a Wednesday, Terresa Denton plays with two of her children waiting for her appointment to receive her food basket.
“Before this program, we had been scrounging,” said Denton, who has been using the church’s program since the end of 2012. “This helps us out so much.”
Denton has a family of seven — four of her children live with her mother — but doesn’t qualify for SNAP because of her husband’s income.
“But my husband doesn’t make much,” she said. “I stay home to take care of my son, who is diabetic. I would love to work.”
When a friend referred her to the program, Denton couldn’t believe the amount of food the church provided.
Our Savior’s program began more than three years ago evolving from another program that assisted seniors.
After seeing a greater need in the area, it expanded to help more people.
Bruning said there are many reasons a person might come to the program.
He has heard stories from the underemployed and unemployed who are just down on their luck.
“And don’t always judge because they have a nice car or nice clothes,” Bruning said. “In some cases, a person could have just lost their job and are one paycheck away from losing everything. They are just trying to find a way to put food on the table.”
He added that he has had people who have broken refrigerators or stoves and have to buy foods to accommodate since they can’t pay for the repairs.
The church has two emergency assistance programs to help those in need. The first meets from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. daily.
“It’s set up like a farmers market,” Bruning said. “That is more of your typical food pantry.”
In January, this program averaged about 173 people per day.
From 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesdays it’s by appointment only.
The program can take up to 240 requests. After that, it might spill over onto a waiting list.
“Thankfully, we have had volunteers step up so we haven’t had to do that yet,” Bruning said. “But we will have our physical limits.”
People are given appointment cards to come at certain times to pick up prepacked boxes of items specific to their family’s needs.
Every 10 minutes, volunteers cycle through another 10 families.
Leslie Hogan waits for her name to be called.
After picking up her box, she loads her car with dry items before going back into the church to get milk and other perishable items.
Hogan receives about $305 a month to feed her family of four. She expects more cuts to come.
“Food is expensive,” she said. “I don’t want to buy my children junk, but it can be cheaper than buying fruits and vegetables.”
Hogan fluctuates between two food programs to help her food stamps last.
“Whenever I have my food stamps, I don’t use the program,” she said. “That just takes from other people who need it.”
Through both programs, Bruning estimated the church will go through about 2.5 million pounds of food in 2014.
According to Three Square, the most common ZIP codes the church serves its 1.6 million meals to are 89015, 89011, 89012, 89014, 89019, 89020 and 89074.
In addition to receiving food from Three Square, volunteers also pick up items past the sell-by date from various grocery stores.
“It’s perfectly safe to eat,” Bruning said. “They use the date more so for stocking purposes.”
The whole program is run by volunteers — something Bruning said the church is always in need of.
Less than a mile away, Giving Life Ministries, 416 Perlite Way, has been operating its emergency assistance program for 25 years.
“It might not be the biggest program,” said John Bagwell, the associate pastor of the church. “We take pride in knowing the individual. We can sit down and see what’s happening with them or their family, not just give them a basket and send them on their way.”
At each session, people can receive about $100 to $150 in food products.
When the program started, Bagwell said the majority of the people were homeless. Now, the church estimates that only 9 percent are homeless.
Most are either underemployed or unemployed.
“We have seen a huge rise in seniors who come to the program recently,” Bagwell added.
About 30 percent of the program participants are seniors, and another 40 to 50 percent are families with single-parent homes.
Giving Life Ministries saw its busiest year in 2008 with 11,609 people.
“It was the year everything crashed,” Bagwell said. “Now we average about 10,000, give or take a hundred or two.”
In 2012, the program counted 10,630 people and in 2013, it was 9,604.
Henderson Presbyterian Church, 501 N. Major Ave., also has a food program to feed the homeless and Henderson residents from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Last year, it saw 9,278 people come through the door, 1,500 of whom were homeless.
Other food programs in Henderson that Three Square provides foods to include the Salvation Army, 830 E. Lake Mead Parkway; Central Christian Church, 1001 New Beginnings Drive; Society of St. Vincent De Paul, 204 S. Boulder Highway; and Highland Hills Baptist Church, 615 College Drive.
For more information on Giving Life Ministries, call 702-565-4984.
For more information on Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, call 702-565-9154.
To find out more about Three Square and other pantries in the area, visit threesquare.org.
Contact Henderson/Anthem View reporter Michael Lyle at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-5201.