As working poor population grows in Reno-Sparks, Catholic Charities focusing on ‘social entrepreneurship’
RENO, Nev. — Every month, Catholic Charities of Northern Nevada sees roughly 20,000 individuals come through its doors. Some come for a hot meal; some come for a box of non-perishable food; some come for financial support to make rent. All of these Northern Nevadans are stuck in a daily struggle to make ends meet, and many of them have jobs.
Fact is, as housing prices keep climbing and wages fail to keep up, the population of working poor in greater Reno-Sparks is growing — and quickly.
Marie Baxter, CEO of Catholic Charities of Northern Nevada (CCNN), said the organization’s food pantry alone is seeing about 500 new registrations each month and serving nearly 400 families on a daily basis.
“It’s really challenging for the working poor,” Baxter said. “I think what’s most telling is that the people who are coming in are not necessarily the people you would think would be coming in. We are seeing a lot of people who are employed in these minimum-wage jobs, and even up to $15-an-hour jobs.
“Because the cost of living is so high in the Reno-Sparks area — even with two individuals working full-time in their household — they just cannot make their rent.”
And this was before the coronavirus pandemic swept across the globe. With Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak on ordering all nonessential businesses, including casinos, to shut down for 30 days, many of the working poor are unemployed.
“We’ll probably see even more people coming to us because there’s probably going to be some shockwaves going on,” Baxter said. “People are really going to be needing extra support, and we certainly need everyone in the community to be rallying behind those folks.”
Catholic Charities, for one, is doubling down its efforts to help the region’s poverty-stricken. CCNN was one of 18 organizations in the country recently selected to participate in the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship’s 2020 Global Social Benefit Institute Pathways Out of Poverty accelerator program.
As a recipient, CCNN will receive six months of tools, curriculum, executive mentorship and access to a network of social entrepreneurs.
“Social entrepreneurship can be a lasting tool to solve problems of poverty, particularly in America where income disparity is increasing between the haves and the have-nots,” Thane Kreiner, Ph.D., executive director of the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, said in a press release announcing the program participants. “The inspiring enterprises selected to participate in the program are working to improve economic livelihoods and create a path toward self-sufficiency for underserved and vulnerable communities across the country.”
For CCNN, the organization’s leaders, on a weekly basis, are virtually meeting with mentors out of Silicon Valley who are guiding them through the program, said Barbara Klipfel, chief outcomes officer of CCNN.
“What they do is help us identify opportunities for us as a social enterprise,” Klipfel said. “What we’re looking for is a revenue stream that we could develop, and also improve our social enterprise that we currently have going on, which is our St. Vincent’s Dining Room.”
Open Monday-Saturday, St. Vincent’s Dining Room serves anywhere from 350 to 600 people a day. Open Monday-Saturday, St. Vincent’s Dining Room serves anywhere from 350 to 600 people a day. During the winter, the organization also operates a warm center, where folks can have breakfast, which sees about 450 people every morning.
Klipfel said CCNN is looking into possibly developing partnerships with entities “where groups of people may need a meal,” such as charter schools, senior care centers, and daycare centers, among others.
What’s more, CCNN is focused on providing opportunities to the people they serve, which Baxter called “the key to the social enterprise model.”
“It’s to enhance what we do already and develop a workforce,” said Klipfel, offering an example. “It could be folks that come in to eat with us and they want to give back. There’s maybe an opportunity to develop some skills with them and give them some training and making them work-ready.
“Now, they’ve learned how you prepare meals, how you do inventory, look at your stock and identify what you need … So, we have an opportunity to maybe train some folks that might be able to work in the culinary industry.”
Through the program’s six months, Baxter noted their mentors will help them figure out which idea is both profitable and provides employee engagement.
“Our goal is to change people’s lives and generate revenue to continue to support our services,” she said. “We’re working with business people who are about making a profit, but in this case, it’s social capital, as well.”
“It’s really challenging for the working poor,” Baxter said. “I think what’s most telling is that the people who are coming in are not necessarily the people you would think would be coming in. We are seeing a lot of people who are employed in these minimum-wage jobs, and even up to $15-an-hour jobs. Because the cost of living is so high in the Reno-Sparks area — even with two individuals working full-time in their household — they just cannot make their rent.”
On April 1, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak formally issued a “Stay at Home” directive for Nevadans and extended closures of nonessential businesses, gambling and school closures to April 30.