Lutheran Social Services of Nevada, 73 Spectrum Blvd., doesn’t look like much from the outside. It’s indistinguishable from the other buildings in the cluster of light industrial businesses around it, but the work that happens inside makes it an unusual place.
“We’re a faith-based nonprofit, and we offer a lot of different services,” said Derrick Felder, special projects manager for Lutheran Social Services of Nevada. “Our mission is to express the love of Christ by serving and caring for people.”
The largest part of fulfilling that mission is operating a food bank out of the charity’s offices. Felder said the organization helps more than 16,000 unduplicated clients each year by distributing more than 350,000 pounds of food.
Rather than hand out packages of random food to clients, the charity’s food bank is arranged as a store, and clients are allowed, within a set of guidelines, to pick what they want. Clients are allowed a certain amount of food per person in their household, but that number is deceptive as some items, such as fresh fruit and vegetables, don’t count toward that weight.
“That’s the biggest part of what we do here, but we’re going to expand that with education,” Felder said. “Were converting one of our offices into a teaching kitchen, so we can show people not just what foods to get to stretch out their dietary budget but how to cook meals that will feed them for days.”
The charity has carefully chosen a basic low-income design for the kitchen that will be comparable in scale and equipment to what its clients have where they live.
“We’re not going to include a Cuisinart or things like that,” Felder said. “It’s set to be just a stove and a microwave. We’re teaching for the real world, not trying to do the sort of things they do in a cooking show.”
One of the group’s clients, Billy King, found the organization after two misfortunes forced early retirement on the 70-year-old Army veteran and former Golden Gloves boxer.
“I got hit by another car and then had open-heart surgery, so I couldn’t work as a welder anymore,” King said. “I had to have my leg rebuilt with a lot of metal. Some days, I can walk on my own and some I need a cane.”
King gets groceries at the food bank about once a month to help make ends meet. Volunteers at Lutheran Social Services of Nevada have also helped teach him to adjust his diet in light of his heart condition.
“I just can’t eat much meat anymore — it’s not good for me,” King said. “One of the things they showed me were protein shakes that really help out in keeping my strength up.”
The food bank is open from 8 a.m. to noon Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Lutheran Social Services of Nevada is closed to clients on Thursdays while the staff catches up on administrative duties and paperwork.
The charity is aware of several food deserts in the area, including the neighborhood surrounding its offices. One way the group is addressing that is through what it calls open-air free markets.
“Basically, it’s a farmers market that is completely free to anyone who qualifies, and that’s most people in the areas we go to,” Felder said. “We have them in a different place every time. At the last one, we distributed over 25,000 pounds of food to over 250 clients in need.”
The charity usually schedules the markets about once per quarter near the end of the month, when many of its clients’ public assistance has run out. In the last four months, it has had four of the markets.
“We find that the holiday time is also a time of greater need,” Felder said. “There is also a great need in the summer when all of the kids are out of school and home.”
The food bank is the group’s largest outreach effort, but it is not only one.
“We’re trying to be a holistic agency,” Felder said “For instance, if someone comes in for food but doesn’t have an ID, we can help them get their birth certificate or other ID. The fees are usually paid through agency funds.”
Lutheran Social Services of Nevada helps clients with those issues on Tuesdays.
Felder said clients’ needs are rarely simple. Someone who doesn’t have the means to obtain food often has other challenges, such as housing or employment issues.
“We have a computer lab center that’s available to our clients any time we’re open, without appointment, so they can come in and look for jobs or send out resumes,” Felder said. “Sometimes, a client will come in and tell us they’ve just gotten their five-day notice (of eviction), and we check to see if they qualify for our temporary assistance program to help cover rent or utilities.”
Despite the charity’s name, several denominations contribute to it in one way or another.
“We receive assistance from several congregations, including Lutherans, Presbyterians, Baptists and Catholics,” Felder said. “They provide financial contributions, volunteers, food drives and sometimes all three.”
Another source of income is Angels of Care, a for-profit home care system.
“It’s a business within our nonprofit,” Felder said. “It’s a fee service, and all of the money it brings in goes to fund our charitable work. We help seniors in need with things like companionship and light housekeeping.”
Felder said many of Angels of Care’s clients are the children of the seniors who are looking for a trustworthy and reasonably priced way to look after their parents when they are otherwise occupied.
“We have a six-member team, and generally they help seniors do things they might not be able to do themselves anymore,” Felder said.
Sometimes, the group receives assistance from a secular source, such as a recent contribution of $14,800 from Bank of America. On Dec. 11, all of the local branch managers presented a check to Lutheran Social Services of Nevada. They then added their muscle by sorting out food contributions and restocking the shelves of the charity’s food bank.
Contact Paradise/Downtown View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-4532.