The Helpers: Getting involved

Grassroots groups offer ways to assist others in the time of COVID

PHOTO/WOMENS AND CHILDREN'S CENTER OF THE SIERRA: A mom and daughter at the center in Reno.

Throughout Northern Nevada, volunteers are pitching in to help their neighbors weather the difficulties of the pandemic and poverty.

Here’s a look at some local nonprofits that do that work and are always looking for help from volunteers and donors so that their missions may continue:

The Women and Children’s Center

The Women and Children’s Center of the Sierra, 3905 Neil Road, Ste. 2, in Reno, helps women escape poverty in order to provide a better life for themselves and their families. The center serves women who are at or below 185% of the poverty level (equivalent to $37,167 for a family of three, or a woman and two kids). Founded in 2008, WACCS is a 501c3 nonprofit entity with a philosophy to provide women with a hand up, and a way out, not simply a handout.

Services include a diaper bank, English as a second language courses (ESL), high school equivalency courses, employment preparation and job search assistance, crisis intervention and free child care for women while they participate in advancement classes.

If a woman comes to the center and needs a service it doesn’t offer, the organization will find a way to help her. All services are offered free of charge.

The center is seeking volunteers who can act as tutors or supervisors for children’s programs, ESL teachers, diaper-drive organizers or data entry/support workers. The organization also needs donations of diapers, cleaning and household supplies, office supplies, children’s snacks and other items. 

The center’s website offers many ways for community members to get involved in its work.

“I’ve been there. I’ve been one of those people who was embarrassed to ask anybody for anything. I felt like your private stuff should stay private. To feel so welcome and be able to just let it out, it felt so good.”

— Patty Sanchez, Women and Children’s Center of the Sierra participant and staff member.

Northern Nevada Dream Center

PHOTO/THE DREAM CENTER: A gathering at the center prior to the pandemic.

The Northern Nevada Dream Center in Carson City is a food pantry, clothing closet and much more; it’s a one-stop assistance center for those in need in the Carson area. The effort began in 2010 and is staffed by volunteers who had a vision to spread hope and bring change to people’s lives.

Its purpose is to help individuals and families meet basic needs and provide assistance through donations and services including emergency food boxes, monthly outreach efforts to individuals and families living in motels, toiletries for homeless people, educational services for job seekers (including GED classes), clothing, and fun activities and services for children through the center’s Dream Kids program.

The Dream Center welcomes new volunteers and donations. The organization can be reached at 775-443-4090 or via email at info@nndreamcenter.org.

Feeding the hungry

Throughout Nevada, food pantries are working overtime to help people who have never used such services before, including seniors, kids and families. Due to the pandemic, the pantries had to shape-shift their collection and distribution into drive-through models. In addition, some pantries expanded their services and began mobile outreach efforts.

The Food Bank of Northern Nevada is a network of regional partner agencies and direct service programs that work to ensure neighbors in need of food are able to get the help they need. Many smaller food pantries make up the network and are staffed by volunteers.

Local food pantries include:

Community Food Pantry, 1135 12th Street in Sparks, behind the Sparks library. The pantry is open Wednesday mornings and evenings and Saturday mornings. It also distributes pet food as available. The Katie Grace Foundation has been providing high quality pet food to the Community Food Pantry and many other nonprofits during the past year.

The pantry welcomes volunteers who are able to work during the week to help get food ready for distribution. Community members may also arrange food drives or make donations so that the pantry can continue its work.

The Dimensions food pantry, 1805 Geiger Grade Road in Reno, is open every Sunday morning from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. The pantry gets food from Sprouts and other sources and also offers clients clothing and toiletries when available. Dimensions, formerly Love in Action, is a ministry of Valley View Christian Fellowship. Its story and information about donations or volunteering can be found on its website 

St. Francis of Assisi food pantry, 160 Hubbard Way Ste. F, in Reno, is located in an area that can be called a “food desert,” a section of Reno that lacks markets and where many people walk to pick up their food. The pantry reports that a lot of residents in the neighborhood have lost jobs or are now logging fewer work hours because of the pandemic.

St. Francis has conducted outreach efforts at apartments where seniors have had to stay home to stay safe from COVID-19. In addition to food, the pantry also distributes cleaning products, masks and toilet paper when available.

The pantry has extended hours and is a “prescription food pantry,” which stocks healthy items. Clients may get a prescription from their doctor which allows them to visit the pantry more often to get vegetables, fruits or other foodstuff they need to stay healthy.

 The organization’s newsletters can be found here. Donations to St. Francis may be made online.

“Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and take away their livelihood.  It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs.”

–  Pope Francis, quoting Saint John Chrysostom.

Project 150 Reno, 1340 Foster Drive in Reno, helps homeless, disadvantaged and displaced high school students with basic needs. The project is currently seeing a lot of families that have never previously used any type of community services. Some families are doubling up or tripling up under one roof to deal with job loss and increased rents and many school-age children are living in weekly-rental motels.

During the pandemic, Project 150 expanded its services to help middle school students, project leaders said, because there were so many requests and so much need. The organization operates with all volunteers and with no overhead expenses, they said. Donations may be made online.

Taking to the streets

In addition to food pantries, community volunteers and groups are taking to the streets to help people during the pandemic.

The Reno Burrito Project is an effort by University of Nevada, Reno students and friends who each weekend distribute burritos, kindness, sweatshirts and other items to people in need.  

PHOTO/RENO BURRITO PROJECT: UNR students distributing burritos in downtown Reno.

Soup for the Soul began as an effort to ladle out soup to people in the streets each weekend, but it has expanded its efforts to include the distribution of other types of meals, fruits, warm clothing and toiletries.

 “My mom and I have always volunteered throughout our lives, but with COVID we’re seeing more and more homeless people and wanted to do something immediately. We cooked soup, put it in containers and then we would bring those out each weekend.”

– Amie Duncan, Soup for the Soul founder.

Duncan encourages community members to get involved in any way they can. People can volunteer to help the distribution efforts while observing COVID-19 safety rules, or donate money, food, napkins or utensils. The group also maintains an Amazon page where contributors may purchase  gloves, toiletries, clothing and other items that are needed on the streets. The items get sent to the group. “And we encourage people to spread the word about Soup for the Soul and its goal of helping Reno’s homeless population,” Duncan said.

Puff Puff Pass the Love, a community of cannabis supporters, is doing its part to help the homeless population. The group has a page on Amazon where contributors can purchase items for distribution and members also sell tamales and tortillas to augment the group’s fund-raising efforts.

Nevadans looking for ways to help others during the pandemic can find a wide variety of needs and active nonprofit groups that need volunteers and/or donations on the What Can I Do? Facebook page. 

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