Turkey and ham, 40 gallons of gravy and mashed potatoes, 120 pumpkin pies, 1,400 rolls and 18 pans of Jell-O warmed the souls of an estimated 1,200 hungry individuals as part of the annual holiday tradition sponsored by John Ascuaga’s Nugget casino and dating back more than four decades.
St. Vincent’s is part of Catholic Charities, and in addition to serving festive feasts on Thanksgiving and Christmas, the dining room also feeds nearly 700 individuals six days a week throughout the year, according to Executive Director Peter Vogel.
“We’re busier (this year), but feel like our resources are the same,” he said, adding that demand for services at both St. Vincent’s and the food pantry, which serves about 30,000 people each month, has grown between 20 and 25 percent over the last year alone.
“It’s the economy,” Vogel said.
The toll of the recession is evident in Vogel’s world. He has seen people who once volunteered at St. Vincent’s come in this year in need of a warm meal for their family.
Pat Monahan, a medical assistant who resides in Reno, has seen thousands of people come through the doors of St. Vincent’s on Thanksgiving during her 15 years as a volunteer.
“It’s very important to give back to your community,” she said in between rounds of serving meals and cleaning tables.
More than 150 volunteers, including Gov. Brian Sandoval and his family, showed up Thursday to help out.
And through partnerships with the Food Bank of Northern Nevada and other organizations, Catholic Charities has been able to meet the increased demand for meals at St. Vincent’s on both Thanksgiving and Christmas.
But Vogel said it is hard for some people to admit they need a free meal.
“The other thing we’re finding is people who never needed assistance before are waiting until their bank accounts are empty until they come to us,” he said, adding that with nine different programs available through Catholic Charities, people do not need to wait until they hit rock bottom before asking for help.
Tommy, 55, knows what it means to feel the doldrums. After years of smoking crack, he finally gave up the pipe in exchange for his first true love: music.
“I came down here to play,” he said as he frenetically strummed the guitar in a rhythmic blues style, entertaining those waiting in line at St. Vincent’s.
Tommy now lives in a motel near downtown Reno and works a part-time job. His days on the streets made him a recognizable face, and many standing in line wished him a happy Thanksgiving and thanked him for his music.
“That’s even better than money,” Tommy said.