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Rising costs of food and housing bring new clients to Las Vegas food pantry

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The price of food just keeps going up. That's changing the way we shop and the way we eat. Brooke Neubauer runs the Just One Project, which works to end hunger in southern Nevada. And for more than a year, she's been helping us understand what the shifting economy looks like for people who come to her organization for food. Back in March, food prices had already risen sharply, and she told me that that was taking a toll on her organization.

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BROOKE NEUBAUER: Now, our groceries that we're trying to purchase are more expensive due to that. And then also, too, just us being able to access those items are really hard.

SHAPIRO: Since then, prices have gone up even more. So we've invited Brooke Neubauer to catch us up on what this has meant for her organization and her clients.

It's good to talk to you again.

NEUBAUER: Thank you so much. It's great chatting with you guys.

SHAPIRO: Tell us, what's the new challenge and what's the solution that you've found? What's different?

NEUBAUER: One of the latest challenges is housing costs for folks. So now we're seeing - we're just seeing so many more decisions on where to put money towards. Is it gas? Is it groceries? Is it now increased rent? So we're really seeing a lot of new clients come into the community market that have never had to access help before.

SHAPIRO: It's interesting. You know, we've been talking to you over the months, more than a year, about the price of food. But what I'm hearing is that everything is related in the economy. If the price of gas goes up, if the price of rent goes up, then people can't afford to buy as much food. The cost of food doesn't exist in isolation.

NEUBAUER: Or how about if somebody can't afford gas? How can they possibly go to a food pantry to get food?

SHAPIRO: And do you hear from those people?

NEUBAUER: We do. And we are very, very fortunate that we have a fleet of seven vehicles and seven drivers that are able to do deliveries. So not only do we have fresh meal delivery, but we also have grocery delivery for clients that are seniors. But also because of COVID, we expanded that into non-senior serving for our home delivery.

SHAPIRO: Given the supply chain problems and the cost of food going up, if I were to have visited just one a year ago, would I have seen different specific food items than what you're offering today?

NEUBAUER: A year ago, the shortages were so different. You know, a year ago, it was strictly freight, the costs. So we were having to decide, OK, do we want to pay twice as much money for potatoes and grapes and oranges? And now it just seems like the issue is, do they have enough grapes in stock for us to purchase?

SHAPIRO: Oh, so before it was like, can we afford the cost of getting the grapes? Now it's like, can we even find grapes at all?

NEUBAUER: Yes, exactly. So that has been a little challenging. But what we do is we're working with our staff to find out what's available, and then we build recipes around that so that clients, you know, can make a healthy meal out of the items that we do have in stock.

SHAPIRO: Give us an example.

NEUBAUER: So vegetable primavera, we had sourced tomatoes and zucchini and garlic. And so we would decide, OK, do we want to pay $2,000 extra to get tomatoes or do we want to do tomato sauce because it might be cheaper for us?

SHAPIRO: Is there a client you've spoken to recently who you really remember?

NEUBAUER: I met a woman. She was in her 60s, and she's a new client of ours. And she said that she had come from corporate America. And she never expected herself to be in lines accessing food pantry. And I just thought, wow, this is, you know, a woman who thought she planned well, who never thought that she couldn't afford her monthly groceries or she had to choose between medication and groceries.

SHAPIRO: When someone says to you, I've never been to a place like this before, I never thought I would need to, what do you say to them?

NEUBAUER: I told her, thank you so much for trusting us to serve her. And look; she might be a client for more than three or four times. And I really just felt grateful that she found us and that we can help her in her time of need.

SHAPIRO: That's Brooke Neubauer of the Just One Project. She's one of our American indicators, people across the country who we've been following through the pandemic, recession and recovery. Thank you very much.

NEUBAUER: Thank you, Ari. I appreciate your time. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.