CEO Volunteers Prepares, Delivers Thanksgiving Meals For Area’s Homebound

November 23, 2018
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CEO Volunteers Prepares, Delivers Thanksgiving Meals For Area's Homebound

WILKES-BARRE — Sandy Rostkowski spent her Thanksgiving morning packing more than 800 containers of cranberries.

She and her friend then headed out to deliver 33 turkey meals to homebound people throughout the area.

The Kingston resident has volunteered for the Commission on Economic Opportunity’s Thanksgiving food distribution project for 20 years.

She joined her friend Scott Wasilewski of Kingston and hundreds of other volunteers who filled First Presbyterian Church in Wilkes-Barre for hours on Thanksgiving morning.

In the kitchen area, volunteers prepared dinners consisting of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and corn.

In another room, volunteers packed meals while others lined up to deliver them to the needy, the elderly and people who would not have a Thanksgiving dinner if it wasn’t for their efforts.

“We feel good after we do this. We like to give back to the community,” Rostkowski said. “For the people we deliver to, we might be the only people they see and we just try to make their day a little bit brighter. Just a smile and a ‘hi and Happy Thanksgiving’ means a lot to them.”

In all, volunteers prepared 870 meals to deliver to homebound people, said Christian Bodner, volunteer coordinator of CEO’s Thanksgiving project.

“We had volunteers who took turkeys home starting Monday, cooked them at home and brought them in this morning,” Bodner said.

CEO’s Thanksgiving project, now in its 39th year, is the largest and longest-serving holiday food distribution in Northeast Pennsylvania.

Previously, CEO hosted a food distribution project in the closed Sears store at the Wyoming Valley Mall, providing packages to 7,223 families throughout Luzerne and Wyoming counties. The clients served on Thanksgiving were unable to get to the mall for the distribution project.


“Everybody should have a nice Thanksgiving and if they are unable to get out, that shouldn’t prevent them from getting a nice meal,” Bodner said.

Bodner said he was surprised at how many people return each year to volunteer.

“I came in and I didn’t really even have to direct people because everybody knew their jobs from years past,” he said. “It’s great that they’re choosing to come here and help out the community. They’re helping other families be able to enjoy the holiday.”

Jahra Florentino brought her family to First Presbyterian Church to volunteer to prepare meals.

The Plymouth resident quickly poured gravy on hundreds of meals as her husband, four children and niece also helped prepare the dinners.

“This is our third year doing this,” Florentino said. “The kids always look forward to it. I want them to know that there are other people out there who need a helping hand and I want them to be appreciative of everything they have and always be helpful and kind and think of others.”

In another room, Mark Davis of Pittston and Mark Albrecht of Shavertown quickly packed meals and prepared to deliver them.

Davis has volunteered for CEO’s Thanksgiving project for 23 years and he brought his son, his daughter and her friend.

They started volunteering when his daughter was 5 after they heard a radio commercial advertising a need for volunteers to help prepare Thanksgiving meals for homebound people in need.

Now, his daughter is 28 and his son is 21 and they continue to volunteer every Thanksgiving as a family tradition. This year, they saw the need increase from about 600 meals last year to 870.

“There’s always a need. Even though the economy is booming, for some people, it’s not,” Davis said. “What’s nice is that every year as the need grows, the number of volunteers grow.”

Davis said delivering Thanksgiving meals to people in need makes him feel both good and sad because he’s likely to be the only face they see at their door all day.

“It’s nice to wish a happy Thanksgiving to someone who might not get another visitor,” Albrecht said.

Rick Kutz, director of the CEO’s Weinberg Northeast Regional Food Bank, said the annual Thanksgiving project is “one of the most rewarding events that we have for volunteers.”

“They really enjoy going out and meeting the people they’re delivering to and they realize how important it is what they’re doing,” Kutz said.

Volunteers for St. Vincent de Paul Kitchen in Wilkes-Barre also delivered meals to people in high-rise apartments throughout the area. Additionally, a Thanksgiving meal was served at the kitchen. In all, program director Mike Cianciotta said about 1,000 meals were prepared and served.

Contact the writer:


570-821-2115, @CVAllabaugh

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