weather icon Mostly Cloudy

Three Square CEO works to end food insecurity in Southern Nevada

Brian Burton’s path to president and CEO of Three Square food bank began before he was born. Burton’s grandmother set an early example for public service by taking her daughter and her angel-food cake to a county nursing home in Burton’s birthplace of Little Rock, Arkansas, during the Depression, and his mother followed suit.

“That was imprinted on me at an early age,” said Burton, who’s now 57. “And the disparity of living in the South during the 1960s; that made an impression on me. I didn’t understand why there was such poverty and there was such segregation. My parents were really good about teaching me about racism and how stupid it is.”

Burton went to a Baptist college and then earned an MBA at Louisiana State University. He worked as a controller in Dallas for a few years, but it didn’t feel right.

“I really felt called to humanitarian service when I was in my mid-20s,” Burton said. He went to Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, eventually earning a master of divinity.

“Of the 3,000 students, I was the only one who had an MBA,” he said with a laugh.

His plan was to work in a large church, and he returned to Dallas and the progressive Wilshire Baptist Church.

“What I found myself really loving was sending people out of the church and into service,” he said. “When you think about the life of Christ, he was always in the marketplace, walking along the seashore, helping people out in the villages.”

The church increased its outreach projects and, during one period of high unemployment, had a jobs lead network of 2,000 people, 99 percent of whom weren’t church members.

After five years at the church, Burton, too, was to go out into the community. A friend who was running a Methodist food pantry needed help. Six months later, the friend quit and Burton had a new job. He stayed 15 years. And then Jan Pruitt, head of the North Texas Food Bank, encouraged him to go to a larger organization and get into the national Feeding America network.

“She told me about this start-up food bank in Las Vegas that was looking for a CEO to follow its founder” in 2011, he said. He liked that it was a new organization, and saw how bad the economy was. Burton came out to interview and was hired that day.

When he arrived, the food bank was distributing 23 million pounds of food a year; now it’s at 44 million pounds.

“It’s been like a whirlwind,” he said. “Moving out here was the best career decision I ever made. The community embraced us very quickly.”

Review-Journal: How many food-insecure people do we have in Southern Nevada, and what does that mean?

Burton: The most current number is right around 280,000. It’s a person or a family who worries about where their next meal is coming from. There’s people who worry two or three times a year. There’s people who worry every day.

Is the situation getting any better?

During the recession, it was higher. We had one out of six people, basically, who were considered food-insecure. Now we have one out of seven. It’s still unacceptably high. We’re very concentrated in Clark County. That helps us distribute the food where it needs to go. Colleagues in Montana and Wyoming serve the entire state. We serve four counties in Southern Nevada (Nye, Esmeralda and Lincoln in addition to Clark). The vast majority live in Clark County.

Does the rate of food insecurity simply parallel the economy, or are we doing more to fight it?

Both. Clearly there are more people working now, which is good. The concern — not just here but around the country — is we lost a lot of the better-paying jobs during the Great Recession. Folks are getting jobs, but they’re not making as much money. Emergency food response is becoming chronic for a lot of our citizens.

How does Las Vegas compare with other parts of the country in terms of the community working to end hunger?

When this town decides they’re going to do something, they don’t pussyfoot around. It does take strong leadership, but it takes a community that believes in what you’re doing, that’s willing to open their pocketbooks and get on their boards and volunteer and do all the things that it takes for Three Square. We have a great governor and great leaders who have become much more responsive around this issue. We applied for a waiver for some of the time limits and work requirements for some of the SNAP (food stamp) benefits, and $57 million will come back to our state next year. We have great partners, great philanthropists.

What more can and should be done?

It’s a solvable problem; I say that every day. But we need 10,000 more volunteers. I hate to sound greedy. We do have 32,000 volunteers, which is amazing, but we need more. With more money, we can feed more people. The funds are always in limited supply. It does take an entire community to solve hunger. It really takes all of us to limit food waste. Grocery stores have been very responsive and are now harvesting 13 million pounds of food a year that would be going to the landfill. There’s opportunity to capture more of that, and we’re working diligently every day to do it.

What are some creative ways Three Square is helping to end hunger?

We have invested in what commonly is referred to as social enterprise … a for-profit revenue stream that most progressive nonprofits are working to develop, so we’re not completely dependent on donations and philanthropy. We’re providing vended meals for 20 of the state charter schools. We make a profit from that. I’m very proud of the advocacy and the public partnerships that we leverage trying to get more federal funding and state funding. That’s not something every food bank does.

Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinell@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0474. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Entertainment Videos
Heavier traffic expected from EDC festival attendees
Electric Daisy Carnival attendees began to vacate the Las Vegas Motor Speedway starting before 5 a.m., the majority heading south on Interstate 15.
What it's like to skip the lines and fly by helicopter to EDC
What it's like to skip the lines and fly by helicopter to EDC. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
DJ Steve Aoki visits Las Vegas comic book store
DJ Steve Aoki visits Torpedo Comics in Las Vegas Friday, May 17, 2019, for a signing for his new comic book series "Neon Future." (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Las Vegas Smith & Wollensky opens at The Venetian
After 18 years, the Smith & Wollensky location on Las Vegas’ south Strip closed in 2017, to be re-born two years later with a rib-cutting — instead of a ribbon-cutting — in The Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal)
Colin Cantwell, Creator Of Iconic Star Wars Ships Visits Vegas
Colin Cantwell, who created and designed such "Star Wars" ships as the X-Wing fighter, and Death Star, met fans at Rogue Toys in Las Vegas today. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Beauty & Essex in Las Vegas makes an EDC Wonder Wheel
In honor of the Electric Daisy Carnival, Beauty & Essex at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas makes its Wonder Wheel party-worthy. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Giada talks Vegas Uncork’d
Giada De Laurentiis talks during Aperitivo Hour, a Vegas Uncork'd event, at her Caesars Palace restaurant, Pronto, May 10, 2019. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Scenes from Vegas Uncork’d 2019 on the Las Vegas Strip
The 13th edition of Vegas Uncork’d by Bon Appetit brought four days of food, wine, celebrity chefs and parties to town, May 9-12. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Three ingredients Gordon Ramsay can’t live without
Bon Appetit's Andy Baraghani interviews the "Hell's Kitchen" chef during a Vegas Uncork'd event at Caesars Palace, May 11, 2019. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vegas Uncork’d launches wiith bubbles and a blade
Dozens of chefs representing some of the Strip’s top restaurants gathered Thursday at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas to launch the 2019 edition of Vegas Uncork’d by Bon Appetit. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bunky the Clown at the clown convention
Bob "Bunky the Clown" Gretton talks about his life as a clown and the Clown Convention which was in Las Vegas at Texas Station this week. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Frying soft-shell crab at Lola’s in Las Vegas
At Lola’s: A Louisiana Kitchen in Las Vegas, soft-shell crab is breaded and fried and served either as an appetizer, po’boy or platter. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
The Stove in Henderson makes Pecan Pie Pancakes
At The Stove in Henderson, chef/partner Antonio Nunez stacks buttermilk pancakes with pecans and dulce de leche and tops them pie crust crumbs. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vinnie Paul remembered at Count's Vamp'd
The late rocker's favorite table at one of his favorite clubs in Las Vegas. (Jason Bracelin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
4DX movie experience at Red Rock
4DX movie experience during a demo reel at Red Rock. (Christopher Lawrence/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
What To Do On May The 4th
There are plenty of events going on May the 4th this year around Las Vegas. Celebrate Star Wars and Comic Book Day all at once. The Rogue Toys, the 501st, Rebel Legion and Millennium Fandom Bar are all hosting fun events to help celebrate your geek-dom. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Water Sports Introduces New Attraction At Lake Las Vegas
Las Vegas Water Sports will debut its new aqua park attraction at Lake Las Vegas Days this weekend. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Making the Space Invader at Greene St. Kitchen in Las Vegas
Lysa Huerta, pastry cook at Greene St. Kitchen at the Palms in Las Vegas, starts with angel food cake, Fruity Pebbles ice cream and strawberry sorbet to create a space creature engulfed in flashing lights and swirling mists. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Pools
The M, Park MGM and NoMad are just a few great pools in Las Vegas. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Jose Andres explains Iberico pork
(Al Mancini/Las Vega Review-Journal)
Inside Life is Beautiful
Craig Asher Nyman explains how Life is Beautiful festival is booked and talks about this year's line-up. (Jason Bracelin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Tattoo'd America Pops Up In Vegas
Tattoo'd America, a new pop-up attraction on the Linq Promenade, had their grand opening Friday. The attraction is dedicate to the culture of tattoos. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Jose Andres gets key to the Strip
Chef Jose Andres was presented with a Key to the Las Vegas Strip and a proclamation declaring April 26 Jose Andres Day in Clark County by County Commissioner Tick Segerblom on Friday. The ceremony took place at his restaurant Bazaar Meat in the SLS Las Vegas. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sadelle’s in Las Vegas makes a grilled cheese with an inverted bagel
Michael Vargas, executive sous chef at Sadelle’s at Bellagio in Las Vegas, inverts an everything bagel and grills it with Swiss, cheddar and Muenster cheeses to make the Inverted Bagel Grilled Cheese. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Learn how to make China Poblano's Salt Air Margarita
Learn how to make China Poblano's Salt Air Margarita (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Tattoo'd America invites you to have fun and take pictures
Kassandra Lopez at Tattoo'd America invites you to have fun and take pictures. (Janna Karel/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Prime rib is carved tableside at Lawry’s The Prime Rib in Las Vegas
Dave Simmons, executive chef of Lawry’s The Prime in Las Vegas, which plans special cuts for National Prime Rib Day, demonstrates the restaurant’s service from rolling tableside carving carts. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Making gluten-free pizza at Good Pie in Las Vegas
Good Pie owner/pizzaiola Vincent Rotolo makes his gluten-free pizza.
Rockabilly fans enjoy Las Vegas weather poolside
Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekender runs Thursday, April 18th through Sunday, April 21st with a huge car show on Saturday featuring The Reverend Horton Heat, The Delta Bombers and The Coasters. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Brownie sundae at VegeNation in Las Vegas is completely vegan
Donald Lemperle, chef/owner of VegeNation in Las Vegas and nearby Henderson, NV, makes his sundae with ice cream made with coconut and almond milks, a brownie made with coconut flour and oil and organic sugar and cacao, and fresh fruit. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Shock program rids your pool of yellow algae

If your pool water has gone from clear to yellow, you probably have yellow algae. The pool store will have chemicals to treat the water. When used with super-chlorination, products such as Yellow Out will kill yellow algae.