UNIONTOWN, Ohio (AP) _ Santa Claus isn't due for a month, but Elton Blair is setting off Friday in his own version of a sleigh with reindeer: a tractor-trailer rig that he will drive more than 3,000 miles to deliver food, medical supplies and toys to poor families in the hinterlands of Guatemala.

While other homes were getting spruced up for Thanksgiving this week, the unemployed truck driver and his wife, Carmel, were happy with as much clutter as possible in theirs.

Boxes upon boxes of donated goods were stacked, especially in the garage, as Blair loaded his rig for what has become his annual pilgrimage to Central America.

Blair, 56, said the trip from this small northeastern Ohio community across Mexico to Guatemala City should take about two weeks.

There, he will again meet missionary Frank Waggoner, whose Guatemalan Evangelical Ministries works to help people at missions throughout the country.

A doctor who supports his venture recently paid the major amount of the cost of the truck and 40-foot trailer, and Blair is trying to pay off about a $4,000 balance. He also has taken a $3,000 loan from Waggoner to meet costs of the expedition, which this year for the first time will be a caravan with two other trucks and a car.

Blair's first trip to Guatemala, in 1980, shortly after meeting Waggoner, was to assist in the construction of dormitories.

''That's when it all started. I really cried when I went into some of those homes,'' he said, referring to the poverty he witnessed. He said he learned that Waggoner needed a volunteer trucker to bring donated supplies, and the next year he made his first delivery.

His 20 years of service with a local trucking company allowed him enough time off to make trips. But the company folded in 1985.

This year, he went to work for a New Jersey-based trucking company, but he quit about two weeks ago because his four months on the job meant he hadn't accumulated enough vacation time for this year's trip.

''This is more important,'' said Blair, a devout Christian. ''You do the Lord's work, and the Lord will bless you.''

Now that he's not constrained by the time limits of a vacation, he plans to return home sometime in December, and then hopes to make a living as an independent trucker.

Each year the size of Blair's task has increased, as word of his journey has spread through churches and more donations are received at his home.

Mrs. Blair, 55, said she considers it a blessing that she was laid off from her job as a production worker at a nearby factory.

''I thank God I have been laid off, because this is the biggest truckload we've had, and there's so much to do,'' she said.

Blair's most frustrating experience on his lengthy trek always comes when he attempts to enter Mexico on the southbound journey. He said last year he was forced to wait a week, then had to pay Mexican officials $1,400 in order to continue.

''I don't think it's right. We shouldn't have to pay anything. None of this is for profit,'' he said.

He said Guatemalan authorities have been cooperative and curious.

''They are interested. They always are there to watch us unload the truck,'' he said.