Charities give thanks for giving

At a time when many are struggling, Las Vegas Valley residents have stepped up to make sure their neighbors don't go without a traditional turkey dinner this holiday.

Several charities reported higher-than-usual donations from individuals to help feed the needy this Thanksgiving.

"Sometimes our community is known for having the highest foreclosure rate and for unemployment," said Julie Murray, president and CEO of Three Square food bank. "But, from Three Square's perspective, the community is known for being so supportive of their neighbors and friends."

The food bank, which supplies scores of other charities that feed the needy, hopes to distribute about 7,000 donated turkeys by the end of the year, about twice as many as it did last year. While many of the donations come in bulk from large companies, Murray loves to see those that come in from individuals, families and small groups.

"We're seeing an increase in giving among individuals, whether it be from third-graders doing penny drives or from families giving $10," she said. "It inspires me every day."

Many charities have been dealing with decreased overall donations because of the recession. Businesses can't afford to give as much in many cases, and government grant funding has been slashed.

Small donations from individuals and families don't necessarily make up for the decrease in donation volume, but it's wonderful to see the community banding together as much as it can afford to, said Sharon Mann, spokeswoman for Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada.

"People have been just driving up, delivering turkeys," Mann said. "They are smaller donations, but there are more of them."

Catholic Charities prepares hundreds of turkeys each year as part of a traditional Thanksgiving meal for the homeless and needy at the charity's downtown campus on Las Vegas Boulevard at Foremaster Lane. The charity plans to serve about 2,500 meals today beginning at 9:30 a.m.

Catholic Charities has received about 4,000 donated turkeys this year, Mann said. The organization gave 2,000 of them away to needy families on Saturday, and began passing out the remainder this week along with bags of groceries.

"Food has become the major commodity right now," Mann said. "That's what people need. So far, we've been able to keep up."

The Las Vegas Rescue Mission saw an increase in Thanksgiving food donations this year. The charity was able to give away 1,250 turkeys and still had enough to feed the approximately 2,000 people who were expected to show up for a free holiday meal on Wednesday.

The bounty came despite the fact that some of the mission's regular donors couldn't help this year "because of the economic reality," said Chris Odle, community coordinator.

"But a lot of people also empathized and said, 'Let's do what we can,' " he said. "It's been a real blessing to everyone in need."

It's not all good news, though. The local Salvation Army has seen a decrease in donations both large and small this holiday, said Charles Desiderio, a spokesman for the charity.

"The person who typically writes a check for $200 every year may not this year because one of their family members is unemployed or frightened they may become unemployed," he said.

The Salvation Army recently launched its holiday "Red Kettle" campaign, and hopes to make up some of its losses that way, he said.

Contact reporter Lynnette Curtis at or 702-383-0285.