INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — With empty bags and carts in hand, people eyed displays of bread, eggs, nectarines, potatoes and other food before making selections to take home.
This scene didn’t unfold at a local grocery store, rather at Project MANA’s weekly food distribution Tuesday at the Community Arts Center in Truckee.
“It’s real helpful,” said George Molt, a Truckee resident who uses the service. “… I usually run out of food stamp allocations before the end of the month.”
The ability to pick up items such as apples, carrots and cheese at no cost helps bridge that gap, said Molt, who also serves as a Project MANA volunteer.
“We really found that a lot of households have been using our services chronically, and we’ve kind of become more of a long-term strategy to meet the shortfalls of having food each month or each week,” said Deidre Ledford, program coordinator for Project MANA.
‘HUGE INFLUX OF CLIENTELE’
In 2006-07, the Incline Village-based nonprofit served 23,864 duplicated individuals, which rose to 31,253 the next year. Need grew in 2008-09 to 38,836, before dropping in 2009-10 to 35,715.
It continued to decrease until 2012-13, when it rose slightly to 27,916 from the previous year (27,905). In 2013-14, it increased to 29,344.
Duplicated refers to the amount of times an individual or household collects MANA’s food distribution services over time.
“Once the Great Recession hit, there was a huge influx of clientele at all the food pantries nationally and food banks,” said Hayley Collins, program manager for Project MANA. “... At this point, what everybody is saying is, ‘Wow, we assumed that after the Great Recession, when the economy got going, things would revert back to how they used to be’ — and that’s not what’s happening. … They rely on us, so we have to make that shift.”
Recently, MANA completed its three-year strategic plan into 2017, with one major goal being enhancing food security programs and operations, including providing adequate quantities of food to those it serves.
“This isn’t here to end hunger, first and foremost,” said Heidi Allstead, executive director for Project MANA. “We wish we would be put out of business, that people have enough resources, but let’s be real. Given the economy, the climate in government, we’re here to help alleviate and be a safety net.”
HUNGRY PEOPLE IN TAHOE?
In 2013-14, the nonprofit served about 15 percent of the population throughout North Lake Tahoe and Truckee, Collins said.
“The question I get a lot is, ‘There’s hungry people in Tahoe?’ because of the affluency here,” Allstead said. “There are people who are in the tourism industry ... who work two, three jobs (and) don’t make enough money to pay rent here, so those are the people that we really see — the working poor.”
MANA is particularly looking to increase its distribution of fruits and vegetables, in order to satisfy “MyPlate,” a nutritional guide set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
According to the average number of servings per food group for an average household of three distributed in 2013-14, Project MANA was below on fruits (10 versus 18 recommended) and vegetables (13, 27).
“Fruit is so expensive that I wouldn’t be eating it without Project MANA,” said Margaret Richards, a retired Truckee resident whose prescription costs eat into her budget.
Beginning this September, MANA will employ a case management coordinator, who will talk with clients about diet and eating habits, and connect them to other community resources to improve their quality of life.
“Food is just kind of the entry point,” Ledford said. “If you don’t have enough money for food, well then there’s probably not enough money for a lot of other things.”
Of course, with increased services come increased costs, Allstead said. For the 2013-14 fiscal year, $355,664 was budgeted, with actuals totaling $318,307. The nonprofit’s 2014-15 budget is $395,709.
Increases include personnel costs, from $214,889 in 2013-14 to $235,606 this year; food expenses, from $38,215 to $48,934; and marketing, from $3,286 to $5,700.
As a result, identifying and securing financial resources is a major goal of the strategic plan. Another is to increase the nonprofit’s visibility through social media, local service providers and marketing materials in an effort to secure additional funding, Allstead said.
All this feeds into one overarching purpose, Collins said.
“... To reduce food insecurity in North Lake Tahoe, Truckee,” she said. “That’s what’s driving all of this.”