In the parking lot of a strip mall the other day, there lined up hundreds of people who needed help. Many seemed thankful to get it. They smiled and ate free snacks and took home Thanksgiving meals that they did not have to pay for.
A woman named Sue, who had not arrived early and who wore a thin sweater that did not ward off the cold, was crying softly toward the back of the line.
In front of her, the droves wrapped and wrapped around parade barricades and carnival tents and a top 40 radio station vehicle with speakers on poles that lifted them into the air. The “Thanksgiving Song” by Adam Sandler from “Saturday Night Live” was playing.
“Gobble gobble goo and gobble gobble gickel,” Sandler sang.
“I just want something to feed my kids,” said Sue Benoit. She was still crying. The cold wind dried her tears.
Cricket Wireless, the phone company that offers service on a month-to-month basis with no credit checks, was giving away turkeys. The first 250 people to arrive would get a ticket for a free turkey. They would line up outside. The turkey giveaway would start at 4 p.m. in the parking lot of its store on East Tropicana Avenue at Maryland Parkway.
Benoit arrived a little after 3:30. She had borrowed her neighbor’s bus pass to get there, had traveled from her apartment across town, at Charleston Boulevard and 28th Street, where she lives with her husband and two kids, 13-year-old twins.
She said she is so poor that she already has sent her boy, 14, to live with her brother back East. She does not want to have to send her daughters away, too.
Mary Jones, the area general manager for Cricket, said it was a tough choice whether to do the turkey giveaway again for the second year. Money is tight everywhere, even in corporate America.
Despite that, the company expanded on what it did last year, when it simply gave away the turkeys. This year, it also was giving away trimmings to 50 people. And tickets for slices of pizza, popcorn, drinks, pony rides and carnival games for the kids.
“Las Vegas has been hit harder than anywhere,” Jones explained. “We just wanted to give back a little to the community.”
Jones was forced to cancel the bouncy house because it was so cold and windy.
“The only thing that’s warm on me are my feet,” Benoit said.
She pushed a small cart to carry her things. It was borrowed from a neighbor. She had anticipated bringing a 15-pound turkey home. Inside the pushcart were two paper bags full of used clothing for her children. She said she had cleaned a friend’s office, and this was her payment.
Benoit said she is disabled and unable to work. She and her husband and their kids moved to Las Vegas three years ago, when the economy still seemed to be ripping along. Her husband went to school to become a dealer, she said. But then the economy dried up. He is not working.
She gets a Social Security disability check for $674 a month. Plus $12.95 in food stamps, she said. The kids get free lunches at school.
Rent is $450.
There is nothing else.
Benoit said there is no food in their house. She already had gotten a free turkey from one of the local charities — she cannot remember which one — but said it was moldy and spoiled when she got it home.
She could be exaggerating. The details of her story might be off a little, shaded here and there to make her seem more sympathetic.
That is human nature.
There is no way of knowing. But, for the record, Benoit did not arrive in a car. She wore white tennis shoes, thin aqua blue stretch pants, a willowy shirt and an aged black sweater that was covered in little fuzz balls. It was 40 degrees outside and windy.
Benoit was missing most of her front teeth, except for one, which was brownish and jutted down crookedly from the top.
She said she is 39 years old, but she looked much older.
“We’re just trying to survive,” she said.
When she got to this giveaway, she looked confused. She was told that the turkeys were all claimed already. That people had begun getting their tickets early that morning for the 4 p.m. giveaway.
She began to cry. She was told of the free pizza.
“A whole pizza?” she said.
Well, no. Each person got four tickets, a different color than the free turkey tickets. Slices were one ticket each. So, she could get four slices of pizza.
“At least I can take the pizza home to my kids,” she said.
And then, “What I wouldn’t give for 20 bucks right now.”
“Are you ready for some turkeys!” one of the Cricket people said over the radio station speakers.
“Woooo!” the crowd yelled.
“Happy Thanksgiving!” the speakers said.
All around, 250 turkeys began walking away with their new owners, who were smiling as they loaded them into trunks or pushcarts or carried them in insulated grocery bags.
Just as there was thanks from people who got turkeys, there was some complaining from people who did not get them.
Jones, from Cricket, acknowledged that 250 turkeys weren’t enough. The company could have bought and given away 1,000 turkeys. More, even. And still there would be unfilled need.
This is what they could do. This is what they chose to do.
The line began to move rapidly now. Benoit made her way to the front.
When she got there, the pizza was gone.
She cried again. She walked into the grocery store with purpose. To beg. They turned her away.
She came back outside. She was dumbfounded. Crying still, she spotted a pizza delivery joint across the street.
She headed that way, looking for help.
Contact reporter Richard Lake at rlake@review
journal.com or 702-383-0307.