Hungry Las Vegas Casino Workers, Unable to Access Unemployment, Find Help from Charities

Posted on: May 1, 2020, 09:12h. 

Last updated on: May 1, 2020, 11:06h.

Laid off casino workers and other needy residents in the Las Vegas region are increasingly turning to food distribution sites so their families do not go hungry during the coronavirus pandemic.

Las Vegas Food Banks Swarmed
Cars lined up for miles this week at such locations as the Boulder Station Hotel & Casino in Nevada so drivers can get some basic free food for their hungry families. (Image: AFP)

Three Square, a regional food bank, estimated this week there has been a 30 percent jump in demand for food. To meet the need, the non-profit organization set up 40 emergency food distribution locations. Lines of cars often extend for many miles.

The distribution sites include properties owned by various partners such as Station Casinos. The company hosted sites recently at the Palace Station, Boulder Station, and Sunset Station.

The response has been overwhelming. For example, this week, hundreds of cars lined up at the Boulder Station Hotel & Casino for drive-through food pickup.

Among those waiting in line was Marcela Meriweather. A cancer survivor, she worked up until recently for MGM Resorts, but was let go when the venue closed.

I’ve never seen myself to do this before,” Meriweather told CNN as she sat in her car waiting for some basic food for the week. “But what can you do? I said before, I’m not going … there because maybe there’s somebody else that really needs that [food].”

“And now I have to do it. I haven’t gotten any unemployment,” Meriweather explained. Many Nevadans, among the hundreds of thousands who filed for state assistance, found their unemployment checks have yet to arrive.

One person named Rich, a full-time, self-employed musician, posted on this week that still “no info on when or how to file for benefits from this pandemic as a 1099 worker.”

“Now finally down to my last months of rent here and after this I will be completely broke,” he revealed. “I know a ton of other musicians in town who are dealing with the same issue.”

Three Square Sees ‘Tremendous’ Increase in Need

Since the organization’s disaster response plan was implemented on March 11, Three Square increased its weekly food distribution from 1 million pounds to 1.3 million pounds. That is the equivalent of 250,000 meals per week.

“There has been a tremendous increase in the need for food assistance due to COVID-19,” Brian Burton, president & CEO at Three Square, told “Nevada’s unemployment rate has skyrocketed to 6.3 percent since the shutdown — the second-highest in the nation after Louisiana, and well above the national average of 4.4 percent.”

“Three Square has seen a 67 percent increase in participation in our mobile distributions since we started our emergency distributions [representing about 1,700 households served on Week 1 versus about 2,900 on Week 4],” Burton explained. Some 6.5 million meals were distributed since March 16.

Three Square also operates a centralized call center. The operation received nearly 30,000 calls since March 11.

Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, there were many households which were facing inadequate amounts of food to adequately feed everyone in the family.

Approximately one in eight Southern Nevadans didn’t know where their next meal was coming from,” Burton said about the situation before the pandemic. “In the wake of COVID-19, the need is even greater because of the shutdown and climbing unemployment rates.”

One trend that is different now is that many of those who need help are among the middle class. “Southern Nevadans with solid middle-class jobs essentially had their world turned upside down — practically overnight — because of the pandemic,” Burton said.

To assist those facing food shortages, multiple casino companies, such as MGM Resorts International, have donated to Three Square and other organizations since the pandemic.

“Three Square has received overwhelming support from countless casino and hotel properties and groups in Las Vegas,” Burton said. “There aren’t words to express how thankful we are to these partners. With their help, we are able to continue our work and help people in need during this uncertain time.”

Another challenge for Three Square has been the number of volunteers needed to operate the food banks dropped. The decline is blamed largely on the pandemic.

Culinary Union Provides Food to Workers

Also, the local Culinary and Bartenders’ Unions’ affiliate, the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas, is providing food assistance for thousands of hospitality workers most affected by casino and hotel closures, Bethany Khan, a union spokeswoman told

“The coronavirus … pandemic has hit the Las Vegas hospitality industry incredibly hard,” Khan said. “In less than a month, almost all Las Vegas hospitality workers were laid off or furloughed, including more than 98 percent of Culinary and Bartenders’ Union families.”

“Workers are facing a severe economic crisis and are struggling to pay for basic needs, especially food. In response to this crisis, the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas (CALV) created the Helping Hand program to help meet the high community demand for food assistance,” Khan explained.

The Helping Hand drive-through or home delivery program provides some 2,000 bags of food a day for needy hospitality workers, Khan added. Each bag contains meat, beans, fruits, and vegetables to feed a family of three for between seven to 10 days.

“So far, over 30,000 bags of food have been given out to workers for free,” Khan reported.

In addition, Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada operates the Hands of Hope Community Food Pantry. It is targeted to low and no-income residents of Nevada, with minimal requirements to receive free groceries once every 30 days.

Our food pantry services more than 5,000 people each month. We are seeing a gradual increase for those seeking help,” Leslie Carmine, media and community relations director at Catholic Charities, told “The need is great.”

Catholic Charities also operates a Women’s Infants and Children program (WIC). It is a supplemental food program for Nevadans.

Many of the organizations will accept donations of non-perishable food. They also immediately require cash donations to fund the distribution programs.

Among the other non-profits in the region providing relief is the Jewish Federation. It has set up a COVID-19 relief fund which covers food distribution, including kosher groceries, for the elderly and other needy individuals.

Also, the YMCA of Southern Nevada has reopened its free meal sites. Under a partnership with the Clark County School District, the program provides pre-packaged meals to youngsters who are 18 and under.

This week, iHeartMedia Las Vegas and KSNV presented the “Stay Home For Nevada,” a broadcast that benefited UMC Foundation/University Medical Center and the Salvation Army of Southern Nevada. It featured many well-known performers, such as David Copperfield and Shania Twain.