For Las Vegas food bank executive, ‘every dollar matters’

Lisa Segler, at the time working on her master’s thesis, evaluating a local food bank’s senior-focused program, talked to a woman who had eaten only half a piece of toast and some applesauce all day.

“Her story wasn’t even the worst I heard,” Segler said. “That experience forever changed me.”

Segler returned to the food bank years later, after a generous donation allowed Three Square to create a department devoted to the food insecurity needs of the aging population, and became director of strategic initiatives.

Among Three Square’s senior hunger programs under Segler’s leadership are congregate and community meals to increase socialization, nutrition education classes, and transportation, like free Lyft rides and bus passes.

How did the pandemic affect Three Square?

Few, if any, communities have been more affected by the dire economic impacts of COVID-19 than Las Vegas. With unemployment at an all-time high, food insecurity soared to record levels. At the peak of the pandemic, 1 in 5 Southern Nevadans, including 1 in 3 kids, was struggling with hunger. In mid-March 2020, Three Square implemented a disaster response plan to answer sudden school and business closures, drastic declines in retail food donations, social distancing limitations on volunteer efforts, reduced on-site staff support, and the need for low-contact food distributions. Our staff, volunteers and agency partners continue working on the front lines ensuring our neighbors have the food they needed during a very difficult time, but our work is still far from done. Three Square has seen numbers trend downward slightly, but food insecurity in Southern Nevada remains higher still than what we saw pre-pandemic, and any number bigger than zero is too high. The continued outpouring of support from of our community has been incredible to witness, and we are grateful for every dollar donated and every hour volunteered.

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Tell us about a success story with Three Square that you’re particularly proud of.

The creation of our new senior-focused program Golden Groceries. It’s a client-choice model that allows those 60 and better to select healthy food items based on their preferences, medical conditions, etc. To allow for this unique client-choice model, we built a website dedicated to a dignified and easy online shopping experience for pick-up or delivery. Younger seniors are tech savvy, and I knew we needed to evolve with the rapidly growing senior population. Since the inception of this program, the number of seniors participating has increased 1,160%.

If anyone would like to help, visit threesquare.org to learn more about opportunities to donate funds — a dollar equals three meals — volunteer to pack produce bags for seniors, or learn how to get help for someone you know. Together, we can end senior hunger in our community.

What’s the biggest misconception you hear about those who use the food bank?

Why didn’t seniors make better financial choices over their lifetime? Many did. They worked for a company, earned a pension, and the company went under. Or they used their entire life savings on medical bills. Or a spouse unexpectedly passed away. Also, the cost of housing continues to rise, but their Social Security checks do not. It’s unrealistic to think that seniors in our community can survive on $700 per month. That’s why our programs, like Golden Groceries, exist. Every dollar matters when you’re on a fixed income.

What is the best business advice you’ve received?

My dad always reminds me to put my employees first before everything else. This is especially true in our line of work due to a higher risk of burnout. I do my best to take care of them so they can take care of others.

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If you could change one thing about Southern Nevada, what would it be?

The culture around aging. Can you imagine turning 60 and no longer being relevant? All of your life experience, your degrees, etc., no longer matter. We treat the aging population like they’re disposable, but we should treat these individuals like they’re invaluable, because they are. They literally paved the paths before us to create the beautiful community we live in. Southern Nevada is a huge retirement capital, and the rapidly growing aging population will shape the entire way our town operates. Aging is a privilege, and changing this culture starts with all of us.

What are you reading right now? Or binge-watching?

I’m binge-watching “Top Chef – Portland.” I’m from Oregon and went to undergrad in Portland, so I love seeing the fun and familiar sites where they complete their crazy food challenges.

What is your dream job, outside of your current field? Why?

Entrepreneur; I am always daydreaming about my endless business ideas. Everything from owning a small, local wine bar to creating solutions to help seniors rejoin the workforce through innovation and technology. However, I couldn’t design a more perfect role than I have now, and I feel so fortunate to be able say that.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I would be a better at-home chef. I love cooking, but I want to take classes, learn about food science, and get out of the rut of cycling through the same 20 recipes I make all the time.

What is something that people might not know about you?

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My 1-year-old daughter is a better dancer than me.


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