About 20 years ago, Heather Sallan was disillusioned with the state of the world and the amount of poverty she saw in Reno, so she decided she needed to do something positive to help. She realized that her elementary-aged kids lived in a comfortable situation while just four miles away at-risk kids lived in squalor. She began a food drive with just her and her children filling up a few bags for the needy.
The next year Sallan, after discussing the concept with her kid’s school counselor, convinced all the students in her child’s class to sponsor a child from another school for the holidays. Next, she brought bundles of empty bags to her neighbors with a note if they filled it with food she would pick it up and take it to families in need. She was surprised and touched that first year when she got 30 bags full of food. Then friends saw what she was doing and started to help. The next year they got 100 bags full of food. Then the program really began to grow to the point that this past year they collected over 1,000 bags of food to be delivered to those who need it the most. Which is a good thing because Sallan says, “There has never been a greater need.“
The Northwest Community Outreach is the name of the organization which carries out all this awesome food gathering and distributing, but Sallan says, “It’s not really an organization, because it is just composed of a group of friends and neighbors doing their part.” People helping people who have no need for a pat on the back, because the satisfaction comes from doing something for someone else.
And that feeling of satisfaction is multi-generational. The young kids who started out with the program as elementary school kids going with their parents to deliver food, are now young adults driving the cars that are delivering all those bags of food.
In fact, It became a tradition amongst many Reno families to be a part of the efforts of the Northwest Community Outreach. ”People expect the bags to show up and there is a ginormous response. I need something to remind me that I can impact my neighborhood and my community,” said Sallan.
One of those who stepped up to help Heather is Sierra Clark, who has been working with the group for the past nine years. “Heather was our realtor. We hit it off instantly,” said Clark. “It’s a very grassroots effort, I love that about it. I grew up in a house where philanthropy was a big part of my upbringing, my parents instilled that in me.” Now she is raising her four boys the same way, “I feel we can easily impact people in our community. We can help kids who have to worry about where their next meal is coming from. We talk about how fortunate we are and that we should share when we can,” said Clark.
For Sallan this effort every year is how she gets her faith in humanity restored. A faith that was severely tested several years ago when Sallan should have been having a good time listening to the music at a concert in Las Vegas, but instead was running for her life. On October 1, 2017, she was in the crowd at the Mandalay Bay Resort when a gunman opened fire with over a thousand rounds of ammunition from high up inside the casino, killing 58 people and injuring hundreds.
Sallan’s memories of that night are vivid and terrifying. She remembers feeling her hair being brushed aside as a bullet whizzed right by her head, missing it by an inch. She heard bullets ricocheting all around her. “There was no escape, you were just lucky if you were not hit,” said Sallan. It was a horribly traumatic experience for her that she is still attempting to deal with today, partly through the process of giving through the Northwest Community Outreach.
“I was so messed up in October of 2017. I couldn’t remember a lot. I was trying to organize myself, so my husband had to help me that year to distribute the food. My faith was decimated after the shooting, after nothing is being done to prevent gun violence, it was really disheartening. I decided I can be resentful and angry, or I can do this and try to redirect what I want the world to be,” said Sallan.
Sallan is heartened when she sees that not only is the program providing an essential service to people in the Reno community, but “I’m finding it is a river that flows out, I have people who helped with the program who have moved to other states and are doing a similar program in their new towns,” said Sallan. “It helps me to know that I can do one thing, every year, to make a difference. It’s been a light in my life.”
While she is happy she has had the opportunity to give, she wants people to understand that this is a community effort. “It is not about me, ever. The community keeps doing it year after year,” said Sallan.
“I think Heather is amazing, she is a really bright light in this world. And that is after everything she has survived and overcome. She is so inspiring,” said Clark.
For more information on how you can help bring food to the Reno needy contact Heather Sallan at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sidebar: Heather Sallan has been helped with dealing with her PTSD from the Las Vegas shooting through the organization Survivors Empowered. To find out more about the work they do for survivors of gun violence go to: https://www.survivorsempowered.org
Tim Hauserman is a nearly life-long resident of North Lake Tahoe. He wrote the official guide to the Tahoe Rim Trail, the recently published 4th edition. He also wrote Monsters in the Woods: Backpacking with Children and writes frequently on a variety of topics. In the winter, he runs the Strider Glider after-school program at Tahoe Cross Country Ski Area. Support Tim’s work in the Ally.
Founded in 2020, the Sierra Nevada Ally is a self-reliant publication that offers unique, differentiated reporting on the environment, conservation, and public policy, and gives voice to writers, filmmakers, visual, and performing artists from throughout northern Nevada and beyond. We rely on the generosity of our readers and aligned partners.