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Feeding hungry neighbors: How business helps

John Seelmeyer

So it’s a couple of days before Christmas, and that snow looks good on Slide Mountain and nobody really wants to think about the Great Issues of Regional Economic Development anyway …

Instead, this is a story about the Food Bank of Northern Nevada and how a bunch of businesses their owners and their employees helped make sure that 153,000 people didn’t go hungry.

And this isn’t a story about how they kept 153,000 people including 70,000 kids who deserve a whole lot better from going hungry just on Christmas Day. This is a story about how they also kept them from going hungry on ordinary days like March 28 and July 14, when hunger pinches just as much as it does on Christmas Day.

When you’re done thinking about the difference that businesspeople made to their hungry neighbors, multiply their work by 5,037, the number of charities in Nevada registered with the Internal Revenue Service at last count.

But first, consider the Food Bank of Northern Nevada:

“This is our community. We are raising our families here. We feel that food is a basic necessity for our neighbors,” says Bonnie Drinkwater, a business attorney in Reno whose practice is a financial supporter of the Food Bank of Northern Nevada.

Staff members of the small law office, Drinkwater says, seek to share the abundance of their lives and help the community in a number of ways. But food is the most basic.

“You can’t go out and get a job, you can’t go to school, if you are hungry,” the attorney says.

More than 50 companies some as large as Wells Fargo, others as small as Kevin L. Konsmo Construction provide cash donations to keep the Food Bank humming in its warehouse at Tahoe Reno Industrial Center.

Other companies match employee contributions. A few days ago, Microsoft Licensing gave the Food Bank $29,387, money raised through its annual giving campaign from employees and a company match.

The Food Bank is able to stretch those cash contributions through other gifts. The food drives that are part of the holiday season at many offices help.

So do bigger contributions. Just a few days ago, the newly created charitable program of Advanced Refining Concepts donated a fillup of the Food Bank’s 18-wheeled refrigerated delivery truck with 200 gallons of diesel fuel from the Advanced Refining’s new processing plant around the corner from the Food Bank’s warehouse.

And it’s no coincidence that the warehouse itself overlooks the grocery distribution facility of Walmart, which joins with other grocers and food distributors to provide a steady stream of donated merchandise.

Much of that donated food is sorted and boxed by groups of volunteers from northern Nevada businesses.

“It brings us together as a group to do something for the community,” says Michelle Sherven, president of Western Environmental Testing Laboratory in Sparks.

Each month for the past couple of years, five or 10 staff members of the laboratory company have volunteered once a month at the Food Bank warehouse.

While that volunteer labor helps the Food Bank get its work done, it also keeps the needs of the poor and the hungry in front of busy people.

“For every employee and every customer who participates with these companies and is made aware of the overwhelming needs of the clients we serve, many more people in the community understand how important our goal of ending hunger is as a result,” says Doris Phelps, the chief marketing and philanthropy officer for the Food Bank of Northern Nevada.

And here is what Phelps mean when she talks about “overwhelming needs”: In the past three years, since the onset of the recession, the number of people served by the Food Bank has increased by 70 percent.

SIDEBAR

A donation of space

The generosity of the owner of a vacant commercial building and the work of two real estate brokers provided a temporary holiday facility for the Salvation Army to collect holiday donations.

The nonprofit is working this year from a high-visibility building at 7175 S. Virginia St., previously a Lithia Audi dealership.

Paul Snider, owner of the building, donated the space. The arrangement was put together this autumn by Floyd Rowley, a senior vice president with Colliers International, and Don Welsh, vice president of Grubb & Ellis.


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