For hundreds if not thousands of destitute travelers and locals the thrift store, food bank and social services run or coordinated by the Joan A Sharp Foundation of Wendover is the difference between going cold or hungry to being warm and fed, more than that it could be the difference between life and death.
“I have know idea just how many people we help,” said JAS Foundation founder Frank Sharp. “I know it’s a lot especially at this time of year.”
Winter is a particularly tough time for Wendover’s workforce when the down turn in tourists means for many employed in the casino industry fewer hours and either a smaller paycheck or layoffs and no pay check at all. Much of the time these suddenly destitute adults have young children who still need to be clothed and fed.
Enter Frank Sharp and the JAS Foundation. Wendover’s poor can qualify for free food at the JAS run food bank located in the Thrift store at the Plaza Shopping Center. Also available are used clothes and appliances that can be had for a nominal price or depending on the circumstances free to the truly needy.
The JAS’ good works is not limited to Wendover locals but also to travelers who find them selves with money or options hundreds of miles from home.
A handful of destitute travelers took advantage of the warmth provided by the adjacent Wendover Senior Center adjacent to the Thrift Store this Monday when the wind chill and below freezing temperatures created a potentially fatal mix.
“We were ready for a bunch of calls Monday,” said Robin Nelson of Wendover Ambulance. “We were pleasantly surprised that there weren’t any.”
The West Wendover Police Department also reported no weather related calls this week including the frigid Sunday and Monday.
Wendover has always been good in taking care of its own and those travelers who need help said West Wendover Fire Chief Jeff Knudton last year. “I think if you check the records no one has ever died for lack of food or shelter in Wendover even during the winter. I think that is something to be proud of.”
The rest of north east Nevada has not been so lucky. Two years ago several deaths in December of 2013 in Elko and Ely were linked to an unusually long stretch of sub-zero temperature.
“It may sound simple but the most important thing is to stay warm,” said Elko under Sheriff Claire Morris at the time. “If you find yourself stranded look for a shelter, flag down a law enforcement officer. No one is going to arrest you for vagrancy when it is 15 below zero. But they will take you to a shelter where you can get a hot meal.”
“We have regular patrols and in the event of snow there are snow plows,” he also said last year. “If your car breaks down make sure it is well off the road and then stay in it. It is warmer and easier to spot than a lone individual on the road. We will find you as long as you stay put.”
And if weary travelers break down in Wendover over Thanksgiving they are more than welcomed to share in a traditional feast at the West Wendover Senior Center.
“We will have turkey with all the fixings, stuffing, mash potato’s and pumpkin pie,” Sharp said.
“It’s real important that people know they are here,” Sharp added. “You can’t get help if you don’t ask.”