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Las Vegas food bank prepares for the end of pandemic relief SNAP benefits

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

For two years now, we've been looking at hunger in America through the eyes of Brooke Neubauer. She founded The Just One Project, now the largest food pantry in the state of Nevada. During the worst of the pandemic, in February of 2021, she told us about the spike in demand.

BROOKE NEUBAUER: We have so many people from different walks of life. There's so much need right now.

SHAPIRO: And six months later, when inflation made the price of everything go up, she told us the impact that was having on her operations.

NEUBAUER: We have to figure out shipping costs. The freight cost is up 100%. So it's crazy.

SHAPIRO: Now millions of Americans are about to see a cut to their federal pandemic relief food benefits under SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. So we've called Brooke Neubauer in Las Vegas again. Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

NEUBAUER: Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate being able to have this conversation with you guys.

SHAPIRO: Well, before we look ahead to the end of supplemental SNAP benefits, tell us where things stand now because you've already been dealing with a lot from the high cost of eggs to all kinds of other pressures.

NEUBAUER: You know, just as many Americans have seen a huge increase of their grocery store bill, you could imagine with us, you know, purchasing millions of pounds a year of food, our grocery bill has gone up tremendously.

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

NEUBAUER: And for us, we purchase in such large quantities, it's hitting us pretty hard.

SHAPIRO: What specific changes have you made as a result of that?

NEUBAUER: We were probably the last to stop carrying eggs, and we were still providing eggs to our families for probably about two months. And then they just got so high that we just had to make a decision to invest in, you know, different types of food because the eggs were $9 a carton.

SHAPIRO: Wow. Well, now, as pandemic SNAP benefits phase out, people are going to receive about $90 less each month on average. Some households are going to see a cut of $250 a month or more. So what do you expect that to mean for your clients and for you?

NEUBAUER: We will definitely be expecting to see an influx of clients that we're speaking with that would like to come in and be served. And we're welcoming them with open arms. So we are ready to meet the demand for sure.

SHAPIRO: Do you have any idea of how many more people are likely to come in when those benefits shrink?

NEUBAUER: Really, time will tell. We will see a big increase. But we are expecting to serve 15% more people. So that's what we're preparing for.

SHAPIRO: Do you have the resources to provide for 15% more people or whatever the number might be?

NEUBAUER: What I find is when we are able to share this news with our community partners that, you know, we are taking this increase on, people just want to help support where they can. And so we are going to be leaning on our existing community partners to raise their support by 15%. We just have to come together and keep up with the demand because we just have no choice. We can't turn anyone away.

SHAPIRO: You know, it seems like every time we talk to you, you're being hit by some major destabilizing force, whether it's inflation or changes in government benefits or the cost of gas or the price of eggs. Do you think your life is ever going to be predictable, or is this just the reality?

NEUBAUER: You know, in the nonprofit sector, nothing is calm. You're always waiting for the next level of support. So, you know, as long as our community is suffering with different needs, we are going to stay on top of making sure that we fulfill those needs as much as we can. So, you know, someday, would we love to have a quiet, wonderful day at the office? Absolutely. But at the same time, a wonderful day at the office for us is serving 500 people a day and being there for people and removing barriers.

SHAPIRO: Brooke Neubauer is the founder of Nevada's largest food pantry, The Just One Project. It's always good to talk to you. Thank you.

NEUBAUER: Thank you, Ari - appreciate you.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANTIGONI SONG, "HIT LIST") 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.