RENO — The people waited outside in winter cold that barely reached the mid 30s Sunday. They wore sweaters and scarves with some having walked miles.
Inside, a warm Christmas meal awaited, with lines of helpers in plastic aprons ready to serve the expected 1,000 to 1,200 hungry folks inside St. Vincent’s dining room.
This year, the piles of pumpkin pie slices, gallons of turkey gravy and mashed potatoes and all the fixings that come with a regular holiday meal were provided free of charge by John Ascuaga’s Nugget Hotel and Casino.
No questions were asked. No preaching was done. No fees were taken and everyone went home full, some taking their leftovers with them.
The service is part of Catholic Community Services of northern Nevada. The Christmas meal is a tradition reaching back four decades and has sprung some inside traditions of its own, with many volunteers coming back to work for years on end.
Jenny McCaffrey, 41, of Reno said she has volunteered to serve Thanksgiving and Christmas meals for several years in a row now.
“I just have a really strong faith in Jesus Christ and I’m so grateful for everything he’s provided in life,” she said. “I try to give back and do things for others. It’s really what Christmas is all about anyway.”
Jack Nielsen, a volunteer of seven years, was directing traffic near the center of the room, as volunteers carried tray after tray to waiting guests who piled onto benches.
“It kind of grounds you,” he said. “You think your life is pretty bad and then you come here and see what these people go through every day.”
He and his son, Dylan, 18, who has also volunteered for the past four years, now attend the Christmas service together.
The Copple family brings the whole gang along. Lauren Copple, 15, a Reed High School student from Sparks kept pace with the rest in line. Her aunt, grandmother, father and brother were also there.
Janice Copple, her aunt, said the family started the tradition in 1990 when her brother, a fire chief, died.
“We do this for him every Christmas,” she said. “It keeps us together as a family, too.”
One guest who was just finishing her meal with her son at her side was Jane Gundlach of Reno. She said she wouldn’t go anyplace else for Christmas dinner, even if she had all the money in the world.
“It’s absolutely, unadulterated perfection,” she said. “As always. Even if I were rich, I would still eat here.”
Her Christmas wish this year, she said: “That everybody is healthy, well and blessed by Christ.”