Hundreds of people lined up down the street at Catholic Charities on Sunday. They snaked around the corner of the building, waiting patiently for a holiday meal.
It is a plate of food that does not come easily for many.
The homeless and families in need file into the dining hall filled with picnic table benches with festive table cloths and ribbon. Volunteers guide them all to take their seats before the start of the feast.
Leslie Carmine is the director of media and community relations for Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada.
Carmine says this is the fifth year the Frank and Victoria Fertitta Foundation and the Dr. Elias and Jody Ghanem Charitable Foundation have provided a free holiday meal to homeless and needy people in Las Vegas.
“This one in particular is kind of special because it’s sponsored by a couple of foundations in town. This is the fifth year for this dinner, but we’ve served a Christmas day meal since we opened in 1965, so it’s been quite a while,” Carmine said, smiling.
“From our numbers today it looks like we are going to serve about 1,300 people. We serve around a thousand for each day. We have a lot of families who are staying in a shelter nearby and usually come and visit us for the holiday meals because they don’t have a home of their own, so they can come and be our family for the day,” Carmine said.
Bishop Gorman High School faculty and students have been volunteering for this event since the Fertitta’s foundation started the Christmas Dinner five years ago.
About 150 volunteer students came out to help serve meals. Twenty-five kitchen staff members make up all the plates for today. There are dining room staff, in addition to shelter staff, and case managers who work with closely with the people they are serving.
“This is my third year volunteering. We came here earlier and decorated. These people are just so happy to be here. It’s nice to be served and feel normal and not homeless. You’re interacting with the people and most of them are just really thankful,” said Shayna Berger, a junior at Bishop Gorman.
There are always three or four tables dedicated to families, and Carmine said those numbers increase around the holidays.
Melisa Davis was living in California working when she was suddenly laid off while pregnant. Now, with six children, Davis moved to Las Vegas to try to find work. She has been living here for the past few months.
Shade Tree provides temporary housing for families, but Davis and her kids had to leave on Dec. 8.
Davis gets groceries at the Salvation Army or will spend a dollar on food to split between the kids.
“This food is a blessing right now. Usually we just sit at the bus stop all day in the cold until shelters let us in at 6 p.m. to stay for the night,” Davis said.
Others say it is much more than a serving of free food.
Brian Campbell who has been homeless since 2011 says of the meal “Obviously it’s fantastic. For me, my experience at Catholic Charities has been much more.”
Campbell used to work at a sports book in Las Vegas. Campbell realized he was having trouble seeing, and discovered he had developed severe cataracts and became blind. He lost his job after he made a simple error and was struggling until Catholic Charities Client Services offered help.
“I was in self-help apartments and now I am transferring to my own place. A very nice apartment. I would have never been able to take the steps to get there without Catholic Charities. For two and half years not having a place to stay, you learn to appreciate your own home. The people that are out there it’s almost an hour-to-hour struggle, constantly trying to survive. It’s not a fun way to live.”
Campbell has since had his eyes treated and can now see again. He said he owes much of his gratitude to Catholic Charities.
Campbell says it gave him a second chance.
“They gave me an opportunity to get back on my feet and helped get my life back together,” Campbell said.