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Las Vegas casinos converted into coronavirus food banks are feeding thousands

Three Square food bank is distributing 1.3 million pounds of food to Las Vegas residents in need during COVID-19

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With the closure of non-essential businesses in Nevada, workers in Las Vegas have had to turn to food banks to get by and the spike in demand means that shuttered casinos have become distribution sites with ques of cars that can stretch for miles.

Three Square, which is a member of the larger food security nonprofit Feeding America, has been receiving lines that are as long as six miles at its 21 distribution centers many of which are located in now-closed Las Vegas casinos.

"If you were to just drive past that line, you would absolutely see that the cars are representative of a lot of different economic classes … It has absolutely been impactful across economic scales,” Three Square’s Chief Operating Officer Larry Scott told Nevada Public Radio.

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Vehicles line up on streets around Boulder Station Hotel & Casino as they wait to get into a drive-thru Three Square Food Bank. There is increased demand amid the coronavirus pandemic as of April 29, 2020. (David Becker/AFP via Getty Images)

Before the coronavirus pandemic, the Three Square food bank in Las Vegas was distributing one million pounds of food a week. Now the food bank is distributing 1.3 million pounds of food -- a 30 percent increase, according to the radio network.

Securing food to donate to Las Vegas residents hasn’t been as much of an issue as securing volunteers to distribute the food amid the state’s shelter-in-place mandates.

Three Square had to stop distributing food to 170 partners because of a volunteer shortage.

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In Nevada, there have been more than 41,980 people tested for coronavirus as of Thursday afternoon, according to data from Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Dashboard. More than 200 people have died from the virus in Clark County, which encompasses the city of Las Vegas.

Despite not having enough volunteers, Scott told NPR he is optimistic that Three Square can get through the pandemic and help residents in need.

Volunteers give out groceries at a drive-thru Three Square Food Bank emergency food distribution site at Boulder Station Hotel & Casino on April 29, 2020. (David Becker/AFP via Getty Images)

“The community has been extremely generous," he said, "I have every faith in the world that even if the food-insecure population grows significantly that the community will step up and fund it accordingly.”

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Three Square gets its foods federal commodities and large companies such as Walmart and Kraft. The organization also purchases food outright and rescues food from grocery stores.

MGM Resorts donated thousands of pounds of food that was originally intended for banquets and conventions it was prepared to host. However, with tourism at an all-time low and the eventual closure of Las Vegas, the resorts gave that food to Three Square to avoid waste.

The Las Vegas Strip skyline is seen as vehicles line up around Boulder Station Hotel & Casino as they wait to get into a drive-thru Three Square Food Bank on April 29, 2020. (David Becker/AFP via Getty Images)

On Tuesday, Three Square implemented new hours of operation for 20 of its emergency food distribution sites. The food banks will now open at 8 a.m. and will remain so while supplies last.

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The 20 sites that have begun new operating hours are:

  • Sunset Station – 1301 W Sunset Rd
  • Coronado High School – 1001 Coronado Center Dr.
  • Johnston Middle School – 5855 Lawrence St.
  • Duncan Elementary School – 250 W Rome Blvd.
  • Cambeiro Elementary School – 2851 E Harris Ave.
  • Palace Station – 2411 W Sahara Ave.
  • West Prep – 2050 Sapphire Stone
  • Western High School – 601 W Bonanza Rd.
  • Ronzone Elementary School – 5701 Stacey Ave.
  • Lowman Elementary School/Manch Elementary School – 4225 N Lamont St.
  • Boulder Station – 4111 Boulder Hwy
  • Hummel Elementary School – 9800 Placid Ave.
  • Kahre Elementary School – 7887 W Gowan Rd.
  • Tarkanian Middle School – 5800 W Pyle Ave.
  • Helen Marie Smith Elementary School – 7101 Pinedale Ave.
  • Wynn Elementary School – 5655 Edna Ave.
  • Sunrise Mountain High School – 2575 Los Feliz St.
  • Reedom Elementary School – 10025 Rumrill St.
  • Silvestri Junior High School – 1055 E Silverado Ranch Blvd.
  • Cannon Junior High School – 5850 Euclid St.  

Additional food banks can be found at threesquare.org/help.

Outside of Las Vegas, Feeding America has reported that food banks are facing a 40 percent increase in demand since the pandemic hit the U.S.

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Throughout the country, more than one million Americans have been infected by the novel coronavirus. More than 61,700 have lost their lives to the respiratory illness as of Thursday afternoon.