New food bank to open in valley

A new nonprofit dedicated to ending hunger will open its own food bank in the wake of recent trouble at the Community Food Bank of Clark County, which is likely to shut down, officials said on Thursday.

Three Square, an entity established locally earlier this year, will collaborate with America’s Second Harvest to distribute food to dozens of local churches and social service organizations that help the poor.

“We will be operational by the busy holiday season, when the need is higher,” said Julie Murray, CEO of Three Square.

America’s Second Harvest is the nation’s largest “hunger-relief” organization with a network of more than 200 food banks and food salvage organizations. It terminated the 30-year-old Community Food Bank’s membership in August amid allegations that the local facility had been selling food and other donated items it should have given away.

The network helps route to food banks the surplus and damaged food and grocery items from a long list of donors. It immediately began notifying donors including Albertsons, PepsiCo, Tyson Foods and WalMart about problems at the Community Food Bank.

Donations have since largely been on hold, Murray said.

“Since late August there has been no place for food to flow into the valley.”

Three Square staffers have contacted local organizations that depend on the food bank to let them know that the new facility should open by mid-November, Murray said.

Three Square probably will move into Community Food Bank’s 50,000-square-foot warehouse at 4190 N. Pecos Road in North Las Vegas, said Douglas Bell, manager of community resources management for Clark County.

“We’re trying to assist in a smooth transition to make things as seamless as possible.”

Clark County gave nearly $3.2 million in a combination of county and community development block grant funds to Community Food Bank to purchase the building a couple years ago.

The building will be transferred to Three Square under a deed of trust, Bell said. As a condition of the transfer, the county has required Three Square to offer jobs to all nonexecutive employees of Community Food Bank. About a dozen such employees work there.

Bessie Braggs, longtime director of the Community Food Bank, did not return a call seeking comment.

She has previously denied allegations that the food bank sold food and other items including pillows and sleeping bags.

Braggs said the charity simply held periodic “reclaimed product sales” at which agencies and individuals could for a $20 donation fill 33-gallon bags with donated goods including toothpaste and blankets.

America’s Second Harvest said the sale of any donated product in this manner is inappropriate and a violation of the network’s membership contract.

It sent staffers and hired private investigators posing as clients to visit the food bank several times, where they were able to purchase food and other items, an America’s Second Harvest official said.

Clark County has supported Braggs and the Community Food Bank for years.

“This whole thing has been very troubling for us,” Bell said. “But at the end of the day, we have to ensure the food supplies will be available to this community. Our ultimate goal is to make sure people are fed.”

Three Square had planned to open a food bank as part of a 15- to 20-acre food production and distribution campus to be built in 2009.

After canceling Community Food Bank’s membership, America’s Second Harvest asked Three Square to step up its plans.

The local nonprofit hopes to eventually more than double the 4 million meals served each year by 150 nonprofit agencies in the Las Vegas Valley. It has the support of several local casinos, the Nevada Community Foundation and other organizations. A start-up grant was provided by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

America’s Second Harvest will provide a $2 million grant to Three Square to guarantee the funding, building equipment and necessary money to finance the food bank for a year.

“It will cover freezers, delivery costs, all the infrastructure needed to operate a very efficient food bank,” Murray said.

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