Las Vegas Sun

October 21, 2020

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First-of-its-kind Delivering With Dignity program builds solutions in Las Vegas

Steve Marcus

Chef Mike Tomorsky loads a car driven by volunteer Ceci Schreiber at Graffiti Bao on April 30, 2020. Graffiti Bao is one of four local restaurants participating in the Delivering With Dignity program.

After a remarkably quick start under challenging circumstances, the Delivering With Dignity program has expanded into an emergency response effort with considerable success and potential. Through partnerships with local restaurants, nonprofit agencies and private corporations, the program has delivered more than 21,000 meals directly to the doorsteps of some of the most vulnerable and isolated individuals and families in Southern Nevada in a little over a month of existence.

“It’s been incredible,” said Punam Mather, one of the program’s founders. “This community makes Vegas Strong true every time it needs to, not matter how bad things get. We just show up.”

A former MGM Resorts and NV Energy executive and currently the executive director of the Elaine P. Wynn Family Foundation, Mather teamed with Moonridge Group CEO Julie Murray and renowned restaurateur Elizabeth Blau to launch Delivering With Dignity in conjunction with the United Way of Southern Nevada.

Delivering with Dignity Food Program

Chef Marc Marrone adds apples to food bags at Graffiti Bao, 7355 S. Buffalo Dr., Thursday, April 30, 2020. Graffiti Boa is one of four restaurants participating in the Delivery with Dignity food program. Other restaurants are Honey Salt, Valencian Gold and Jolt Coffee. The program aims to deliver high-quality meals to vulnerable families during the coronavirus outbreak. Launch slideshow »

The program was born as a response to Clark County Commission Chairwoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick’s request — at the early onset of the COVID-19 crisis — to create a pathway to reach high-risk residents who may not be able to leave their homes to acquire food or needed supplies and may not have a reliable support system of friends or family.

The resulting collaboration is a one-of-a-kind program in Las Vegas that uses logistic technology from San Francisco-based company Copia, which helps redistribute edible excess food from various sources to shelters and food pantries in 270 cities across the country. In coordination with four local restaurant partners (Honey Salt, Graffiti Bao, Valencian Gold and Jolt Coffee Co.) plus Zappos for Good, Delivering With Dignity picks up prepared meals and delivers them directly to households all over the valley that have been identified in need by various nonprofit groups that work directly with the recipients.

“Some are the social service type of nonprofit that have a regular case management type of relationship, but not all are like that,” Mather said. “One is Teach For America, which puts high-quality teachers into [schools] but they don’t have a social service [program]. But they do have relationships with families, so if they’re aware of a family that qualifies for our criteria, they send them to us.”

Delivering With Dignity began with Blau’s restaurant Honey Salt serving as a sort of headquarters, but the program has grown quickly to include the efforts of corporations like Zappos, which has been providing 1,000 meals a day for nonprofits serving larger populations such as Veteran’s Village, the Shade Tree and the Las Vegas Rescue Mission. Restaurant partners could continue to grow depending on the need, and a positive byproduct of the program has been a revenue boost for restaurants that are struggling to stay in business during the state-mandated temporary closure of dine-in business.

Graffiti Bao chef and owner Marc Marrone thanked the program for allowing his restaurant to participate, saying, “Honestly it’s saving our business and team.”

Private donations and corporate sponsorships fund the creation of the high-quality restaurant meals, and each delivery, carried out by “food hero” volunteers who abide by strict health and social distancing guidelines, feeds recipients for three days.

“We’re not paying much for the meals but it’s enough that the [restaurants] can pay staff and hopefully stay alive so that when they can kick up their business, Delivering With Dignity becomes a foundation for them to grow,” Mather said.

The program received a little extra exposure recently when Las Vegas Raiders General Manager Mike Mayock donated $1,000 for every pick the team made in the NFL Draft April 23-25. And Las Vegas headlining illusionist Criss Angel heard about Mayock’s contribution and matched it.

Last week, Delivering With Dignity started providing lunches to the Multi-Agency Coordination Center at Fire Station 18, the valley’s first responder emergency response headquarters, and this week, a new branch of the program will begin service in Reno and Sparks, engineered by Lt. Gov. Kate Marshall with Michael Frazier of the United Way of Northern Nevada and chef and restaurateur Mark Estee.

As the unique program evolves and expands, it’s becoming clear to its organizers that Delivering With Dignity and similar efforts will need to continue beyond the immediate crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The thing that turns out to be the most valuable part of it is how it’s tightening the weave of our community connection. What we now know is that those at highest risk for COVID, whether it’s a child with cystic fibrosis or an 83-year-old who is immunity compromised, no one should be leaving that house,” Mather said. “We have all these amazing opportunities set up to get free groceries and meals and school lunches, but every one of them requires me to leave my house.

“So at some level we’ve created a solution for that food element, but … every community needs something like this. This is going to have to be some part of our new normal because there will always be people who need to remain in their homes because they are socially or financially vulnerable.”

More information and donation opportunities for Delivering With Dignity can be found at deliveringwithdignitylv.org.