The 28-year-old man with a boyish face smiled as a volunteer served him a full plate of food, thanking the woman as he sprinkled a generous amount of black pepper over his creamy mashed potatoes.
Karl Bogoslovsky, who said he is working through a rehabilitation program, can’t remember the last time he had a meal at a sit-down restaurant.
But on this day, he feasted.
“Normally when they come in, they have to go through the food line,” said Deacon Tom Roberts, president of Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada. “It’s a dignity so many of us take for granted, to be able to go to a restaurant and have the meal served to us.”
On Thursday morning, the nonprofit organization hosted its 54th annual free Thanksgiving feast with enough food to feed 1,000 men, women and children — many of whom are homeless.
The nonprofit’s executive chef, Jun Lao, said he started cooking around 2:30 a.m. Thursday but that meal preparations for 750 pounds of oven-roasted turkey began on Tuesday.
In all, Lao and the kitchen staff prepared 30 gallons of gravy, 500 pounds of mashed potatoes, 300 pounds of green beans, 400 pounds of stuffing, 20 gallons of cranberry sauce and 1,000 slices of pumpkin pie.
It was a massive undertaking, he said, adding it was well worth it to ensure there would be enough for some to have second or third helpings.
The restaurant-style service was made possible by more than 100 volunteers, including the Montoya family.
Now a Thanksgiving Day tradition for the family of five, it began 13 years ago when Selva Montoya urged her husband and two sons, then 13 and 10, to volunteer.
“It’s a great way to start the day,” Montoya, wearing a hairnet and white kitchen apron, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “Especially on Thanksgiving, when there’s so many people out there that can’t have a warm meal in a warm place.”
Along the way, the 49-year-old longtime Las Vegas resident has recruited others to volunteer with her family. This year, she rounded up 15 members of the family to help out, just two people shy of her record number of volunteers.
With about 15 minutes left before the dining hall was scheduled to open, Montoya and her 70-year-old mother, Rosie Vega, quickly sliced the last batch of bread rolls in the kitchen.
Just outside the kitchen, Roberts, the deacon, asked the volunteers to join him in prayer. Dozens of hands shot up over the food as Roberts cleared his throat.
“We give you thanks for family and friends, for jobs and houses and for relationships,” he said, in part. “And we ask you to bless this food.”
Bogoslovsky, one of the first to be seated and served, quickly cleared his plate.
Dabbing a napkin across his face, he excused himself from the table and headed back to the end of the line, hoping to get another serving of turkey.
“It’s really good,” he said.