Reno woman’s home has become a veritable food bank
They shivered on the sidewalk, wind pelting their cheeks, and shuffled toward Evelyn Mount’s modest beige home. For dozens of this out-of-luck gambling city’s untoward and unemployed, it was a destination of last resort.
Mount and her volunteers greeted them outside her two-car garage with enough groceries to whip up a feast. Mount has run a makeshift food bank here for three decades; there’s probably never been a greater hunger for it.
In the weeks before Thanksgiving, Mount’s team handed out more than 7,000 meals, thousands more than during prosperous times. The number of Christmas dinners should trump that, she said. Washoe County’s tourism economy remains rotten, with the unemployment rate topping 13%.
Debbie Powell, 55, never anticipated fidgeting for an hour on Cannan Street, a working-class enclave brightened by holiday lights. Yet, days before Christmas, when she’d typically be shopping for pumpkin pie and fruit salad ingredients, she stood freezing outside Mount’s garage in a blue sweatshirt and plum-colored gloves.
Powell had been laid off from the local Grand Sierra casino last year, and the Mint casino before that. She’d papered the region with applications, exhausted her jobless benefits. Her husband, who lost his warehouse supervisor job, ekes out minimum wage at temporary gigs. Powell had pawned her wedding ring ($160 and it’s hers again). Fruit salad? A luxury.
With the holidays looming, she asked her adult son what to do. “I’ve never asked for help,” said Powell, who lives in the nearby city of Sparks. “We’ve done everything for ourselves all our lives.” Her son told her: Call Mount. He had gone there too.
Mount, 84, is something of a local legend. More concerned with deeds than dissertation, she shrugged when asked about her decades of philanthropy. Her mother would often invite empty-pocketed neighbors to dinner, her family said. The big-heartedness trickled down.
One Thanksgiving in the late ‘70s, when Mount worked as a Reno airport dispatcher, she made 24 food baskets for the needy. That Christmas, her coworkers pitched in to deliver dozens more. Afterward, Mount ran the holiday food drive out of her home; it snowballed into something larger. Community Outreach, the group she and her late husband, Leon, founded, also delivers donated food to senior citizens year-round.
On a recent morning, the petite Mount worked a table in front of her garage. She wore glasses, a black coat, silver hoop earrings and a red knit cap, from which graying curls escaped. She drummed nails painted red with gold streaks and took no guff.
“Get those off the sidewalk!” she barked when she noticed a stack of pallets. “I don’t like the sidewalk messed up like that.”
Volunteer Huery Talbert cracked a smile. “Yes, Captain Colonel,” he teased, explaining that Mount’s force-of-nature personality demanded two honorifics.
Talbert, 46, was among a dozen volunteers buzzing about the garage, which had been decorated with handmade signs (one vowed: “Giving Is the Greatest Gift You Can Receive”). Cans clanked, plastic bags crackled.
When Talbert’s friend dragged him here last year, he whined about the cold. By the spring, he’d become a reliable helper, chatting up seniors to whom he brought food.
Talbert considered how his mother sometimes hauled home charity for her six children. “I think we have to treat people who need it with respect and dignity,” he said. “It takes a lot to come here.”
In recent weeks, he said, one woman in line had burst into tears. She used to donate to Mount’s food bank. Then she lost her job.
As Talbert spoke, the line inched forward. Infants wailed. Women quivering under thin coats were directed to Mount’s porch, which was loaded with donated jackets, sweaters, scarves and boxes of a hair accessory called Bumpits — a testament to Mount’s refusal to toss any type of aid.
At last, Powell arrived at Mount’s table and handed in her form. Number in family: 2. Income: Low.
“Merry Christmas!” Mount said.
“You, too, Evelyn,” Powell replied, her voice heavy with gratitude.
Powell was steered to a shopping cart parked on Cannan Street. It held a grocery bag of sides and some main courses. “I got chicken!” she exclaimed, almost to herself. “That will help a lot.”
A volunteer pointed to nearby folding tables. Grab some items, he said. Powell wheeled over the cart and added blueberry muffin mix, two packs of Jell-O pudding mix, instant oatmeal and hot cocoa powder. Also, a bag of marshmallows. Perhaps she’d make fruit salad after all.