Before Evel Pie closed its doors for 30 days as mandated by Gov. Steve Sisolak, Dustin Hoots collaborated with the Downtown pizza shop, once again, to help his fellow Las Vegans.
Three years ago, as he watched the carnage of the October 1 shooting unfold on television, Hoots saw a news broadcast about the shortage of ambulances to transport victims to hospitals. “I got in my Scion, drove to the Strip and started giving lifts to wounded people to the hospital,” he said. “I gave people who were stranded rides back to their hotel and to their homes. Did that from about 11 p.m. October 1 to about noon October 2.
“Then someone told me that Evel Pie was donating pizzas. I had never been to Evel Pie before, but I took the group of people that I had [given] rides, and we all rolled down to Evel Pie. We delivered, over the course of two months, about 500 pizzas to victims, people who were suffering or displaced. And then we started taking collections for supplies or what anybody needed for three months out of the back of Evel Pie.”
That was the impetus for Hoots, a local artist, to launch his charity, Helpful Hoodlums. For the past year, he has been working as Evel Pie’s doorman and maintenance guy, and he’s also been working with owner Branden Powers since the Strip tragedy, using the shop’s back patio as a hub for charity events. The Hoodlums raised money and collected supplies for McCarran International Airport TSA workers when they were furloughed, and it also helped cover bills and funeral costs for the family of Las Vegan Serge Fournier, who died last year after he was shoved off a bus. “We pitch in for people that don’t necessarily have a designated charity that can help,” Hoots said. “I’ll run myself ragged trying to help people with what they need.”
As COVID-19 began to impact Las Vegas, Hoots sent out another battle cry, using Facebook to post messages calling for donations. Once again, the Helpful Hoodlums were operating out of the back patio of Evel Pie.
“We realized that a lot of people were being put out of work, and that there was a lot of panic and people were hoarding supplies—rendering [other] people woefully unprepared,” Hoots said. “So we decided to ask if anyone had any extra stuff ... bring it to us and we would distribute it. We had people come drop off myriad supplies: toilet paper, paper towels, food and over-the-counter medicine. And then whoever needed assistance and would approach me, I would give them a time to come down and privately look at the supplies so it wouldn’t be embarrassing for them.”
As Governor Sisolak’s order for nonessential businesses to close on March 17 loomed, Hoots and the Evel Pie folks realized they were working against the clock before shutting the doors of the pizza shop— and now donation center—for at least the next 30 days (Rather than go delivery/takeout-only, as many restaurants have done, Evel Pie opted to shutter, for the safety of its employees, Hoots said.) “So instead of fire-selling the pizzas or throwing things away, we thought it’d be a better idea to just give it to the community,” Hoots said.
On March 18, a line stretched from Evel Pie on Fremont Street down to 6th Street, around the corner all the way to Stewart Avenue. For more than six hours, Hoots and crew distributed about 350 free pizzas. Shared stories floated through the air. Stories of being laid off; of not having money to stock up on groceries; of turning in leased cars because there was no money for payments; of parents not being able to find baby supplies like wipes and diapers anywhere. “A lot of heartbreaking stories, man,” Hoots said. “Businesses laying people off, companies closing their doors.”
Despite Evel Pie closing its doors, Hoots battles on, taking donations while looking for a space to stock supplies so those in need can get them.
“I can’t really operate out of my home, so I just need to find a place I can set this all back up,” Hoots said. “I’m gonna do this till the wheels fall off.”