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Homeless man appreciates little things

On this Thanksgiving Day, Dennis Leathers is just happy to have a roof over his head and food in his belly.

Leathers said he has much to be thankful for this holiday season — despite being homeless.

He came to Las Vegas three years ago from North Carolina to spend his final working days as a card dealer at the Plaza.

What better place to retire for a guy with 40 years of gambling industry experience, Leathers thought.

But the recession devastated the economy shortly after his arrival, and companies stopped hiring. Nevada was one of the hardest hit with its
14.2 percent unemployment rate and is still struggling to rebound.

The boss who planned to hire Leathers lost her job, too.

“I never dreamed the economy would get as bad as it got,” Leathers said as he sat in the Catholic Charities dining room on Wednesday.

“If I didn’t have this place, it would be a sad state of affairs. I don’t really know what I would do without it. I’m not in a position to do much different than being here by this safety net.”

At 59 years old, this wasn’t how he planned his retirement — living in a shelter and eating at a soup kitchen.

Leathers is one of the last ones still alive in his small family. There’s really no one to reach out to for help, he said.

“It’s just an existence, but it’s the only thing I can do at the present time,” Leathers said.

“It’s a big circle. My hands are tied. You can’t move around with no income. My family is here.”

He gestures to the dining room and explains this is why he eats the turkey dinner here every Thanksgiving.

“Even though I ran into a bad situation, this place has provided me with a safety net, and for that I’m thankful,” Leathers said.

“I’ve never known times like this in my 60 years. I’m in unfamiliar territory just like other people are. I’m hoping to be able to make a comeback to become a working part of the community again.”

In the next room, a dozen kitchen staff hurriedly prepared 2,500 meals. For the 150 volunteers at Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada, the holiday brings much food preparation — the staff returned at 2:30 a.m. today — to feed the valley’s hungriest.

Chef Juan Peñate said it takes 32 hours of prep time to organize the menu, figure out the number of supplies needed for a successful Thanksgiving dinner and create serving portions.

He starts serving at 9:30 a.m.

It will take 3,600 pounds of turkey, 750 pounds of mashed potatoes, 600 pounds of dressing, 50 gallons of gravy, 750 pounds of green beans, 50 pounds of cranberries, 6,000 rolls, 50 pounds of whipped butter, 3,000 pieces of pumpkin pie and 50 pounds of whipped cream to feed everyone who comes through, Peñate said.

And even then, he has allowed for 300 extra servings, just in case.

Most of the turkeys and all of the pumpkin pies were donated. The rest of the food was bought with donations and grant money.

It’s a welcome gathering for the ones who usually go without, said Leslie Carmine, charity spokeswoman.

“We try to give them as many calories as we can,” Carmine said.

About 400 to 800 people come through monthly for food.

“We have all walks of life coming in,” Carmine added. “We have lots of people who are staying in shelters who have jobs and are just trying to save where they can.”

Contact Kristi Jourdan at kjourdan@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0279.

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