Today marks the 52nd consecutive year that St. Vincent’s Dining Room has benefitted from the Ascuaga family donating Thanksgiving meals to local shelters. An estimated 1,300 turkey dinners will be delivered to the Catholic Charities of Northern Nevada facility beginning at 11:30 a.m., providing the city’s poor, homeless and underserved men, women and families.
Nugget Chief Operations Officer Stephen Ascuaga said Friday he was happy to ease the minds of the community that the sale of the Nugget, to new owner Carlton Geer, would not hinder or discontinue the philanthropic efforts to St. Vincent’s Dining Room.
“One of the things that attracted the new ownership group to the Nugget was the fact we are very woven into the fabric of the community,” Ascuaga said. “We have always looked at impactful ways we can be a part of the community. There are a ton ways to donate and give money, and you can’t do them all or you would be closed up, but there is a handful that have always been true to my dad’s heart.
“We weren’t sure if there was going to be push back (on the donation), and it was just the extreme opposite. They were on board 100 percent with it and continuing the (Nugget) scholarship program, and those are two things that are really important to my dad and to the Nugget. We really cherish that.”
Geer called the Nugget a “pillar of philanthropy” in northern Nevada and Ascuaga said the new owner will have plenty of chances to experience the Thanksgiving donation for years to come. For Ascuaga, no one memory sticks out about the annual donation because every holiday, or average day, spent at St. Vincent’s Dining Room leaves an impression on him.
“I think it is groups like this that can really make a difference and get people on their feet,” Ascuaga said of Northern Nevada Catholic Charities. “It is pretty humbling when you go down there and you see the variety of different scenarios and circumstances. You have people who may be getting their only meal of the day down there or kids who are getting their only gift of Christmas from those people.
“I am glad we can be part of that. The crew at St. Vincent’s is really a great crew and when you see what they are doing out of the goodness of their heart, it is really amazing.”
The meals delivered to and served at St. Vincent’s Dining Room are the same ones served to guests at the Nugget’s Thanksgiving Buffet in Sparks.
Ascuaga said the transition of ownership to Geer is “going smoothly” as the Nevada Gaming Commission approved the gaming license transfer last week. Ascuaga said he hopes to have everything finalized in late December making the New Year’s celebration very special this year.
“The amount of detail that is involved in something like this is still pretty mind-boggling because you are dealing with so many different aspects in terms of licensing,” Ascuaga said. “Some of this is uncharted territory as we move along. On one end, we are operating the property on a day-to-day basis and on the other we are trying to put this together so it is as seamless as possible.”
Ascuaga said the decision to sell the property involved many components, ranging from the 1,500 employees at the Nugget to the surrounding community that has witnessed the birth and growth of the business. He said plenty of thought went into finding a viable candidate for future ownership, and having Geer’s support in philanthropic ventures was a major determining factor.
“We realize, not in an arrogant way, that we are a big part of the Sparks and Reno community,” Ascuaga said, “And not just in what we donate but also the number of people that put kids through school working here or college students who have worked their way up or the different events that we throw. We try to share as much as we can with the community and if we have something that we can share, whether it is our venues or our money.”