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Closed Store Converted To Help Families In Need

November 22, 2018
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Closed Store Converted To Help Families In Need

WILKES-BARRE TWP. — A transformation took place at the closed Sears store this Thanksgiving season. Inside the former retail space at the Wyoming Valley Mall, hundreds of volunteers prepared bags of food that were distributed to thousands of families in need. It was all part of the Commission on Economic Opportunity’s 39th annual Thanksgiving project, which ensured families who have experienced hardship and struggles have nutritious meals. According to CEO, 7,223 families throughout Luzerne and Wyoming counties received Thanksgiving food packages. About 1,200 volunteers distributed more than 400,000 pounds of food. Donna Hines, a mother of three from Wilkes-Barre Twp., joined other volunteers who helped pack the bags with instant potatoes, stuffing mix, peaches, lima beans, yams, green beans, cranberry sauce, corn and pie crust mix. Recipients also received turkeys. Hines has volunteered to help CEO for at least six years. Every year, she packs bags and assists on the busy weekends to distribute the bags to families in need. In this day and age, we need more volunteers who help other people,” Hines said. “I’m also a recipient of this so it’s two-fold. I not only receive but I give back as well.” Millard Galat, a Luzerne Intermediate Unit teacher for a vocational transition shop class, recently brought students with him to volunteer. It gave them experience with public service and they learned the importance of organizational skills and teamwork, he said. “We’re getting young guys and girls ready to work and into the workforce so we emulate a job situation,” said Galat, who has been bringing students to volunteer for the project for 14 years. “We try to teach them these things so when they go into to the workforce, they’ll be able to do those things. “They’re giving back to the community. They’re seeing there are some people less fortunate than them. Maybe they’ll be a little more thankful for what they have.” Luzerne County Senior Judge Hugh Mundy, president of the CEO board of directors, said the Thanksgiving project is a “reminder to the rest of us that the fortunate must share with those in need on the day we give thanks for our nation’s bounty.” Thousands of people registered to receive the bags of food, said Christian Bodner, volunteer coordinator of CEO’s Thanksgiving project. “Volunteers come in from all different parts of the community,” Bodner said. “We have a lot of groups with disabilities who come with job coaches and they get some work experience. We have companies come in as well as high schools, Key Clubs and a whole assortment of people. On the weekends, we have a lot of repeat volunteers.” Bodner initially thought he would have to solicit volunteers, but he said “there are so many returning volunteers who want to keep coming.” A number of sponsors helped pay for the food and Entenmann’s donated Little Bites muffins, he said. Last year, volunteers packed the bags in the East End Centre in Wilkes-Barre Twp. Rick Kutz, director of the CEO’s Weinberg Northeast Regional Food Bank, said they chose the closed Sears store this year because of its huge space. “It’s always a challenge to find a location large enough to do the set up and with enough parking,” Kutz said. Today, CEO volunteers are preparing more than 600 meals at the First Presbyterian Church in Wilkes-Barre. The meals will be delivered to homebound people. A sit-down meal is offered from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. today at the Annunciation Parish (the former St. Gabriel’s Church), 122 S. Wyoming St. in Hazleton and volunteers will deliver meals in the Hazleton area as well. A Thanksgiving meal will be served at St. Vincent de Paul Kitchen from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. today at 39 E. Jackson St. in Wilkes-Barre. Additionally, volunteers will deliver meals to people in high-rise apartments throughout the area. In all, program director Mike Cianciotta said about 1,000 meals will be prepared and served. Contact the writer: dallabaugh@citizensvoice.com 570-821-2115, @CVAllabaugh

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