Boarded-up casinos. Little to no traffic. Hardly any pedestrians. The Strip was throwing off some serious post-apocalyptic vibes. Images like that, broadcast around the world, could have broken a lesser city’s spirit.
But when the pandemic unleashed 30.1 percent unemployment, a mark never before seen by any state, and left as many as 20 percent of residents without enough food, Las Vegans from all walks of life stepped up to rally around their neighbors.
From donating meals to sewing masks to simple acts that raised spirits, we’re taking a look back at 100 of the many ways you’ve lifted each other up during the COVID-19 crisis.
Julie Danner was named the first Nevada Hero of the Day by Gov. Steve Sisolak and Nevada Health Response, kicking off a program to recognize good deeds throughout the state. In March, Danner founded the Las Vegas/Henderson Coronavirus Community Rescue & Barter group on Facebook to help provide meals, clothing and other essentials. It since has become a home for members to ask for help or to offer it.
Veronica Coon set up a similar Facebook group, Barter Group — Southern NV. With shortages at local stores, members traded what they could find for what they needed. Eggs for masks, for example. Or shampoo for rice. “Even though I can’t monetarily help people, I knew that other people on my friends list could,” Coon told the Review-Journal. “And my faith has been restored in humanity because of it.”
UNLV alum Guy Fieri helped raise $21.5 million, doled out in $500 grants to workers in 50 states, through the Restaurant Employee Relief Fund.
José Andrés — who owns Bazaar Meat, China Poblano and Jaleo on the Strip — directed $135 million into more than 2,000 restaurants across the country through his World Central Kitchen’s new Restaurants for the People program. That money helped struggling businesses while creating and delivering more than 12 million meals to needy Americans.
Bruno Mars, a headliner at Park Theater since 2016, donated $1 million to jump-start MGM Resorts International’s Employee Emergency Grant Fund.
Other MGM performers — including Australian Bee Gees, Boyz II Men, Carrot Top, David Copperfield, Terry Fator, the cast of “Fantasy,” Brad Garrett, Jabbawockeez, Hans Klok, Jay Leno, Shin Lim, Kathleen Madigan, Bill Maher, David Spade, Ray Romano and the cast of “Thunder From Down Under” — soon made donations that brought the fund up to $11 million in its early days.
Valley natives Bryce and Kayla Harper pledged $500,000 to pandemic relief, to be divided among Three Square, the humanitarian effort Direct Relief and the Philabundance food bank in Philadelphia, where he patrols the outfield for the Phillies.
Marc-Andre Fleury donated $100,000 to help gameday staff and T-Mobile Arena workers impacted by the early end to the NHL regular season.
St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Dexter Fowler, who calls Las Vegas home, helped provide more than 64,000 meals through a dollar-for-dollar matching initiative he set up at Three Square.
The Chainsmokers, the DJ duo of Alex Pall and Drew Taggart who’ve had a residency at Wynn Las Vegas since 2017, donated 10,000 KN95 masks to University Medical Center.
NASCAR Xfinity driver Noah Gragson, a Las Vegas native, pledged to donate 100 percent of the proceeds from his merchandise sales to the United Way of Southern Nevada Emergency Assistance and Community Needs Fund.
That fund, established March 18, distributed more than $2.4 million to 34 nonprofits. Among the services provided were 70,699 meals, 28,615 nights in emergency shelters, 1,397 months of rent and mortgage payments and 762 paid utility bills.
Clark High student Anya Zhang won her division of a science and engineering fair hosted by UNLV’s College of Sciences. She used the prize money to buy 2,000 face coverings that United Way of Southern Nevada distributed to its early education classrooms.
Five-year-old Justyn Boumah earned national recognition for the care packages, including water and snacks, he began handing out to his neighborhood sanitation workers.
Girl Scout Alyssa Casa sewed more than 1,000 masks for frontline workers and members of the military.
As a way to thank area health care workers, 9-year-old Haylee Hirsch made more than 100 greeting cards using stamps and stickers.
When chef Sonia El-Nawal realized Olivia Hergenroeder and Seth Teller, employees of her Rooster Boy Cafe, wouldn’t be able to attend prom because of the pandemic, she took matters into her own hands. El-Nawal arranged for Hergenroeder to have her hair and makeup done, served the couple a surprise private dinner and played music for them to dance to in the restaurant that was decorated for “Olivia’s Senior Prom.”
Fourteen-year-old Alexis Scott was honored by Gov. Steve Sisolak and Nevada Health Response in April for having made 220 masks for hospitals and first responders.
UNLV students Iris Martinez and Kacey Kim made 114 sanitation kits for the homeless in March, when stores were limiting the purchase of supplies such as soap and tissues. Martinez made daily trips and relied on family members to help acquire the necessary items.
On April 17, attorney David Koch and his 18-year-old son, Mason, spent 11 hours climbing up and down Black Mountain, installing 60 solar lights that displayed the outline of Nevada’s borders with a red heart inside. The finished project, updated with a new color scheme for the holidays, could be seen for miles.
Restaurateur Elizabeth Blau got together with Punam Mathur of the Elaine P. Wynn & Family Foundation and Julie Murray of the Moonridge Foundation to launch Delivering With Dignity. Since its inception on March 23, the organization has delivered nearly 250,000 meals — prepared by its restaurant partners, including Honey Salt, Graffiti Bao, Valencian Gold and The Jolt Coffee Co. — to the doorsteps of some of the valley’s most vulnerable residents.
Delivering With Dignity received an early boost from Freedom Meats and its CEO, Jeff Pugh, who donated $100,000 worth of meat to the cause. At the start of the shutdown, the casino and restaurant supplier had a full inventory and few takers. “I can sit on it, freeze it, wait for the casinos to open back up and slowly get going again,” Pugh told the Review-Journal. “Or I can help the community now.”
Matter Real Estate Group, the firm behind the planned UnCommons development in southwest Las Vegas, teamed with local restaurants to provide nearly 4,000 free meals to health care workers at valley hospitals. Restaurants including Piero’s Italian Cuisine, Lotus of Siam, Sushi Kame and Urth Caffe reopened their kitchens during the shutdown, and received an infusion of cash, to prepare the meals.
Led by Jonathan Batista of the YourPanadas food truck, Chefs 4 Vegas handed out boxes of fresh produce, at times serving 1,500 families a day.
Throughout April and May, chef Iman Haggag provided 50 free meals — including delivery, when necessary — each day from her Egyptian restaurant POTs.
Evel Pie offered a double dose of good deeds. On March 15, the downtown restaurant collected all manner of essential items for those in need. Then, on March 18 as nonessential businesses were ordered to close, employees cleaned out the kitchen, giving away 20-inch pizzas — including vegan and gluten-free options — until the ingredients were gone.
Pizza Stone’d food truck owner Madisen Saglibene donated and delivered 120 personal pizzas to the staff at Sunrise Hospital and another 20 to workers at the Sprouts Farmers Market near her home.
The #sparrowandwolfchallenge from Sparrow + Wolf encouraged bartenders to make and tag a cocktail video on Instagram. For each post, the restaurant promised to prepare and deliver a free meal to first responders. “We’ve gotten videos from Austria, Japan, Florida, all over,” chef Brian Howard told the Review-Journal. “The goal is to feed those who need it most.”
Food donations don’t have to be healthy when they’re thanking local heroes. Girl Scouts of Southern Nevada gave 1,200 boxes of Girl Scout cookies — with handwritten thank-you cards — to health care workers at nine valley hospitals.
When humans go hungry, their pets often do as well. To meet the needs of Nevada’s animals, the Kendall’s Kupboard pet food bank at Hearts Alive Village was expanded to become the state’s disaster distribution center and received more than 110,000 pounds of pet food from GreaterGood.
Through his housecleaning service, Men Clean Too, Zachary Steward can purchase toilet paper in bulk. So when store shelves were emptied, Steward sprang into action to wipe away people’s fears. “I first just started off going to the Walmart parking lot and giving everybody one roll of toilet paper, free,” he told the Review-Journal. “‘Cause people need toilet paper, and I don’t know why people are hoarding it. I have access to get it, so why not help people who are in need?” After posting his phone number on Facebook and the Nextdoor app, Steward delivered two free rolls to whomever contacted him, averaging 24 hours a week of kindness. By mid-April, he had given out nearly 800 rolls.
Given the amount of restaurants and eateries inside Las Vegas casinos, the sheer amount of fresh food on hand at any one time can be staggering. Among the food donations during the first days of the shutdown were more than 229,000 pounds from MGM Resorts International, 96,000 pounds from Wynn and Encore, 140 pallets from Caesars Entertainment, more than 120 pallets from Station Casinos, more than 60 pallets from Las Vegas Sands, more than 15 pallets from Sahara Las Vegas, 10 pallets from The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas and around $30,000 worth of food from South Point.
Canceled or rescheduled shows at the Las Vegas Convention Center led Centerplate, its food and beverage partner, to donate 9,200 pounds of prepared food — including 500 boxed lunches, 400 sandwiches, 400 salads and 100 food platters — to the Las Vegas Rescue Mission.
Friends Jeana Blackman Taylor, Annette Magnus and Donna West formed the Vegas Community Pantry, a grassroots, garage-based organization that was making 120 grocery deliveries a week by mid-March. “When you’re picking up four or five grocery bags from somebody’s garage,” Blackman Taylor told the Review-Journal, “and then you’re taking it to somebody’s doorstep, and you know that you’re helping a family of 10 survive for a few more days in some cases, there’s just something that’s very visceral about that.”
Allegiant Air was among the early donors to the Vegas Community Pantry. Employees delivered 96 cases of soda, 15 cases of juice and hundreds of packages of pretzels, crackers and other snack items that were intended to serve visitors who would have been traveling to Las Vegas in March.
In neighborhoods, in parks and along walking trails throughout the valley, residents found rocks that had been painted with bright designs or messages of hope to lift their spirits. “When this first started and the school let out and people were afraid what would happen next, I wanted to paint rocks,” 7-year-old Braden Hahn told the Review-Journal. He painted images of rainbows, flowers, bees and funny faces and left the rocks for his neighbors. “People didn’t have anything to do,” Braden said, “and it might make them happy to look out the front door and see a rock.”
Jade Miron took up the rock-painting effort, as well, including leaving 15 painting kits for her neighbors. “I’m no Bob Ross. But I’m stressed and bored, and this is fun and helps me pass the time with my daughter,” Miron said. “Making other people happy makes me happy.”
When food resources became even more scarce than usual downtown, John Chou started the Las Vegas Town Fridge. The nonprofit United Movement Organized Kindness provided the location and power for the refrigerator, designed to provide food around the clock, with the motto “Take what you need, leave what you can.”
Food Not Bombs Las Vegas turned its Little Free Library into a Little Free Pantry, where the hungry could take what they needed when they needed it.
In addition to her regular night shift as a paramedic, Sarita Lundin joined Food Not Bombs and Caridad in March to provide medical advice and aid and distribute care kits to the homeless near her downtown neighborhood.
When Derek Stonebarger boarded up his ReBar for the shutdown, he hated the look of all that plywood. A day after taking to social media to offer those boards as a canvas, Stonebarger had a pool of 30 to 40 artists who were able to paint murals on 10 small businesses like his in the Arts District.
Alisha Kerlin, executive director of the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art at UNLV, created “A Drawing a Day Keeps the Pandemic Away.” The 30-day challenge was designed to keep local artists engaged while quarantining by creating works inspired by a daily prompt.
In April, Mondays Dark creator Mark Shunock hosted a livestream telethon that raised $122,000 for The Actors Fund to benefit local actors, dancers, musicians and crew members whose shows were shuttered by the pandemic.
Southwest Medical Associates hosted “Healthy at Home,” a virtual concert series that raised money for community organizations. Depending on the show, each live view generated a donation of one meal to Catholic Charities’ Meals on Wheels program or $5 to the TCS Entertainment Community Relief Fund.
Clark County Parks and Recreation kept the spirit of Tom Haverford alive by hosting socially distant pop-up dance parties in neighborhoods throughout Southern Nevada. As part of its In It Together initiative, residents were invited to request a visit from the dance mobile’s roving DJ.
With the Las Vegas Philharmonic unable to perform, music director Donato Cabrera created “The Music Plays On,” a daily blog at donatocabrera.medium.com dedicated to bringing some of his favorite music to the masses.
As local musicians struggled to find work, songwriter Patrick Worley offered them free listings on his website, lessonslasvegas.com, to solicit clients for virtual music lessons.
William Neal’s 3D printing hobby came in handy as he was able to produce face shields for hospitals around the country. What started as a gift of 30 to 40 shields for his company’s CEO to pass along to his brother, a doctor, grew into a small community of friends and family members, even his grandmother, who cranked out roughly eight shields an hour. By mid-April, the group had made and donated nearly 1,000 of them.
With the blessing of faculty members, several students at the Adelson Educational Campus brought 3D printers home from the technology lab to produce medical face shields, face mask clips and ventilator valves for area hospitals.
UNLV Nursing assistant professor Jay Tan designed face shields using transparency sheets from overhead projectors and “noodle” pool floats. By the end of April, he had churned out more than 700 that were donated to valley hospitals.
The nonprofit Las Vegas Fashion Council assembled its Mask Task Force, which created more than 5,000 fabric masks, part of the more than 30,000 pieces of PPE donated by the group.
UNLV student-athletes, coaches, staff members and their families took T-shirts donated by Nike and the Andre Agassi Foundation and turned them into 5,000 homemade masks that were given to UMC’s satellite health centers.
In just three weeks, friends Roxanne Andrews, Rebecca Thompson, Madison Kirkpatrick and Amber Dagdagan made more than 1,000 masks and donated them to local assisted-living facilities and first responders.
By the time Mary Ann Racheau made a special fabric mask to celebrate her 70th birthday in April, she already had sewn about 500 of them at the request of friends and family members. The former lead seamstress for Siegfried & Roy donated 200 of those to nurses.
Five years ago, Brian Scroggins, chairman of the Southern Nevada Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, received 25,000 surgical masks left over from the SARS epidemic. In March, he donated them to fire departments, homeless advocates and local hospitals.
Michael Tang, a member of Touro University Nevada’s advisory board, donated 200,000 medical-grade and surgical masks to the medical school through the Cyrus and Michael Tang Foundation. Touro then passed those masks on to hospitals, medical centers, senior care facilities and first responders throughout the valley.
More than 100 Touro students volunteered through #MedReady, an initiative that offered free online tutoring and opportunities for community services that included health screenings and delivering groceries.
On March 18, Matthew Evans collected essential items for Sun City Summerlin seniors. It was the first public event for the We Got Your Back group he launched that week on Facebook. Since then, We Got Your Back has become a daily resource for valley residents, matching those who need help with others who want to give it.
Volunteer Connect, a website created by United Way of Southern Nevada, helped pair local nonprofits with residents seeking to help them.
The YMCA of Southern Nevada matched its staff, members and volunteers with older members, who received frequent calls, text messages and emails to check on their wellbeing through its Senior Outreach Initiative.
The cookbook group Please Send Noodles met monthly at The Writer’s Block. Once COVID-19 turned the world upside down, core members of the group, led by James Beard Foundation Award-winner Kim Foster, kept its spirit alive with 100 Dinners. Since June, members have prepared 150-200 meals on the last Saturday of the month to help some of the many Las Vegans who are struggling make it through that final weekend until their benefits arrive.
Serving Our Kids increased its weekend meal bag program, providing weekly food deliveries to the families of more than 4,600 at-risk students in kindergarten through eighth grade at 185 schools throughout Southern Nevada.
Direct Care to Kids, a partnership formed among Communities In Schools of Nevada, The Public Education Foundation and Spread the Word Nevada, delivered more than 25,000 kits containing academic materials, books and personal hygiene items to at-risk students to help them participate in distance learning.
Ninth Island Aunties, a group dedicated to bringing the Aloha spirit to various parts of the community, made weekly donations of food, water and snacks, enough to feed 100 people at a time, to HELP of Southern Nevada’s Crisis Outreach team and the Shannon West Homeless Youth Center.
Lutheran Social Services of Nevada has fed more than 11,000 families through its pandemic-related emergency food distributions.
With Passover falling during the early days of the pandemic, volunteers from the Jewish Family Services Agency delivered baskets of matzo, gefilte fish and other staples to Jewish seniors and Holocaust survivors in time for Seder.
Health Plan of Nevada and Southwest Medical stepped up to help the Just One Project provide 10,500 meals a week to the homeless in Las Vegas.
Just One Project volunteers delivered groceries to seniors in Audi Q7s loaned out by Silvercar by Audi.
In response to the growing need for its services, SHARE Village Las Vegas expanded its pantry services to twice daily, seven days a week, offering ready-to-eat breakfast items and fresh meat and produce.
An April 2 food distribution event at Palace Station, sponsored by Three Square and Central Church in Henderson, led to a four-mile line of cars that stretched back to Rainbow Boulevard.
The nonprofit Hope for the City hosted immersive, holiday-themed drive-through pantries at Central Church in Henderson. The group has created more than 375 pop-up food banks and given away more than 9 million pounds of food to nearly 750,000 individuals since the start of the pandemic.
When officers and volunteers at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10047 weren’t preparing free meals, post commander Angie Morelli was busy making masks for members and trading them for pallets of food.
Project 150, which provides services and support to at-risk high school students, began hosting daily curbside food pickup on March 17. In one four-week span, the group provided more than 800 students with family meal bags, the equivalent of more than 6,500 meals.
Valley businesses gave $600,000 in cash and in-kind donations to support the Isolation-Quarantine Complex, which provided 2,200 nights of shelter for area homeless who were infected with, or at high-risk for, COVID-19.
Volunteers from AT&T picked up donated hot breakfasts from McDonald’s and delivered them to staff and patients at the ISO-Q at 6:30 a.m. every day from the complex’s April 13 opening until it was shuttered June 30.
Angela Edgeworth, owner of children’s shoe manufacturer Pediped, procured 1,000 medical masks that she donated to the ISO-Q.
Comprehensive Cancer Centers of Nevada donated 10,000 sunscreen packets to staff, volunteers and patients at the ISO-Q.
In March, when some hospital workers were taping up garbage bags to use as PPE, Tao Group Hospitality donated 800 ponchos to University Medical Center.
That same month, with bottled water every bit as scarce as toilet paper, Little Darlings offered its inventory of 30,000 cases of water to needy families.
With Cox Communications’ temporary transition to virtual technical support and troubleshooting, technicians weren’t able to enter customers’ homes. So the company donated 5,000 of the protective shoe covers those representatives would have worn to UMC staff as extra protection.
The “Show You Care” program at The District gathered video messages from the community to be played at local nursing homes and care facilities where visitation had been halted.
Make-a-Wish Southern Nevada established “Messages of Hope” to solicit notes, videos and photos of encouragement for its critically ill children whose wish fulfillments were delayed by the pandemic.
As the co-owner of Demi’s Gift Baskets, Demi Hou works with concierges every day. But when those concierges were out of work during the shutdown, she donated 100 baskets filled with treats and gift cards to members of the Southern Nevada Concierge Association.
Heather Marianna, owner of Beauty Kitchen Boutique in Boulder City, prepared 200 self-care kits to give to essential workers.
AAA Nevada offered free roadside assistance to all first responders and health care workers.
First responders haven’t just received goodies, they’ve given them as well. On May 7, firefighters from Clark County, Las Vegas and North Las Vegas delivered 25 pizzas, snacks and soft drinks to the medical personnel and National Guard members staffing the COVID-19 test center at UNLV’s Shadow Lane campus.
The pandemic postponed Gavin Hinds’ trip to SeaWorld for his ninth birthday, but his day was made memorable by the Henderson Police Department. Gavin was surprised by the arrival of five vehicles, with their lights and sirens on, carrying officers who sang “Happy Birthday” and handed out badge stickers.
SafeNest created a micro-school on its campus to serve the students staying at the domestic violence shelter. With CCSD school buildings closed, two classrooms were established to help the children with their virtual instruction, while staff members and volunteers were available as additional resources.
The nonprofit grief center Adam’s Place started Zoom Camp Cope, an online gathering during the stay-at-home order, to help children and adults deal with loss at a time when they couldn’t be with friends or family members.
In September, Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada broke ground on its outdoor dining pavilion. The tent-covered, open-air dining center was designed with the pandemic in mind, including 280 socially distanced seats for the agency’s daily free community meal. The space also is intended to serve as a temporary day shelter.
A group of Strip performers including singers, showgirls, impersonators and Piff the Magic Dragon visited 13 valley hospitals Aug. 12 to perform as a thank you to health care workers as part of the #MaskUpNV initiative.
A parade of about 160 vehicles decorated with signs and balloons celebrated Southwest Medical physicians on April 30.
More than 1,000 students at the Legacy Traditional School’s southwest campus rode around the school’s parking lot May 4 in vehicles decorated with balloons, flags and signs to show their teachers how much they were missed.
Cindy Hebert, a third-grade teacher at The Meadows School, was honored with a surprise drive-by parade featuring dozens of her students for her 69th birthday.
In May and June, Opportunity Village campuses hosted drive-thru parades so the organization’s clients could briefly reunite with staff members, from a distance, for the first time in months.
The Salvation Army Southern Nevada distributed 4,000 safety kits — including a mask, gloves, sanitizer, wipes and soap — to the homeless in just one day.
Volunteers from Rebuilding Together Southern Nevada and Republic Services delivered Safe at Home kits — including face masks, soap, sanitizer, flashlights and first aid items — to residents of the Historic Westside.
When nonessential businesses were shuttered, flower wholesaler Greenfield and Company donated its inventory to anyone who needed cheering up. Six hundred bouquets went to those making donations to Three Square, while others were picked up by locals who delivered them to hospitals, senior centers and others in need.
The national effort HonorAndThank.com began in the valley. Kathleen Kilmer, whose sister is an emergency room nurse, started the website so users could express their gratitude to health care workers in specific cities or individual facilities.
Barbara Grantham spent two decades criss-crossing America with her late truck driver husband. When restaurants began closing or converting to drive-thru only — an impossibility for anyone in an 18-wheeler — Grantham started making care packages for truckers. The boxes she handed out at the Petro truck stop in North Las Vegas contained juice, water, crackers, cereal, tuna, soap, toothpaste and other necessities. She decided to use her stimulus check to cover expenses. “I’m only living on Social Security, but it’s extra money,” Grantham told the Review-Journal. “What am I going to do with it? Buy a couch? A new dress? A new pair of shoes? I decided to spend it on people.”
The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson, who with Miriam Adelson, is a founder of the Adelson Educational Campus.
Some of this story is based on reporting throughout the year by multiple Review-Journal reporters including Janna Karel, Madelon Hynes and Jason Bracelin.