Hilton Heir Behind Plan for Food Distribution for Las Vegas Poor

An heir to the Hilton hotel fortune has announced an effort to raise $40 million to build a food distribution facility and network to feed the hungry in southern Nevada.

Eric Hilton, the wealthy 73-year-old son of the late Conrad N. Hilton, said Tuesday he came up with the idea for an entity called "Three Square" after hearing that a nonprofit agency serving more than 300,000 meals a year to the area poor was closing its doors because of financial problems.

"It just didn't seem right in Las Vegas, where so many people come to have a good time and money and food are plentiful, that people were going hungry," Hilton, a Las Vegas resident and businessman, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

He said he enlisted the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, known for its humanitarian initiatives, to help end hunger in Las Vegas.

The foundation financed a $250,000 two-year study of hunger in southern Nevada, leading to the announcement Tuesday involving Hilton and business and resort leaders at The Center for Independent Living in Las Vegas.

The study found that the 4 million meals served each year by 150 nonprofit agencies in the Las Vegas area were meeting less than half the demand, said Julie Murray, chief executive officer of Three Square.

Hilton said the goal was to more than double that within three years, with Three Square coordinating support from MGM Mirage, Station Casinos, Boyd Gaming, The Harrah's Foundation, and the Nevada Community Foundation.

The food production and distribution system, which relies on volunteers from the gambling and culinary communities, would be housed on a 15- to 20-acre campus at a site yet to be selected.

Meals would be prepared and distributed in a kind of meals-on-wheels fashion to nonprofit agencies that feed the poor, Murray said, adding that the cost to the nonprofits could be about $1 per meal.

Murray said people would not be fed at the campus, which could also house a food bank and facilities for food recovery from hotel and restaurant entities.

Murray said the state Legislature approved $1 million toward the project.

Walter Coffey, director of restaurant design and development for Harrah's Entertainment, said the Hilton foundation-commissioned study found the demand for food could double in the next 10 years.

He said the needy were not just the homeless, but also seniors and children.

"The face of hunger is much different in reality than people think," Coffey said.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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