HAZLETON —Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon has invented a word, and it seems to have stuck.
The Major League Baseball manager, a Hazleton native, coined the word “Thanksmas” to show that public service isn’t just something to reserve for special days.
“We want people to understand,” Maddon said. “We need them to volunteer, not just on holidays.”
So he called his effort Thanksmas, a month’s worth of days bookended by Thanksgiving and Christmas, in hopes more will turn out to help the needy.
Maddon and his team of volunteers wrapped up a 10-day good-will campaign from his home in Florida to his organization, the Hazleton Integration Project’s new headquarters, the Hazleton One Community Center.
At their final event, the volunteers served more than 300 people a hot dinner with ethnic foods from Maddon’s Polish and Italian heritage, said Maddon’s sister, Carmine Parlatore, who is part of the HIP board of directors.
Latin chicken and pork recipes were also prepared in efforts to help the city’s strong Latino community feel welcomed Parlatore said, which is at the crux of the organization’s mission.
The organization, called HIP, works to bring social growth to Hazleton’s children through low-cost programming. But Maddon said he was inspired to start HIP when he noticed the strong influx of Latino people in the last 10 years, a change that is met with opposition by some.
“I have a strong affinity for this group of people,” Maddon said, explaining that many of those with whom he works in Tampa have a similar heritage. “They’re the ones who are going to bring our city back. … They want to be here.”
Maddon defended those who sat around him, and encourages people to look at the poor and downtrodden objectively. Many of them are hungry for reasons out of their control, he said.
“It’s not just lazy people who get beat down,” Maddon said. “We don’t realize how close we are to being in need.”
Maddon called the Hazleton One Community Building a “petri dish” for running community projects. Once he gets his system down, he wants to expand. And he’s eyeing Wilkes-Barre.
While Thanksmas dinner has been happening in Hazleton for three years, Sunday’s feast was the first in the HIP community center along Seybert Street. HIP purchased the old Most Precious Blood Catholic school in May, said Parlatore, who lives in Hazleton.
“This year we’re just happy to be here, happy to be home,” she said.
Giant grocery store donated all the food for this year’s Thanksmas.
Store Manager Jeanine Wolczyk said she couldn’t quantify the food donated by dollars and cents. She said better it be measured by the pound.
“Eighty pounds of ham, 60 pounds of pork, (more than 100) pounds of macaroni,” Wolczyk said.
The market’s assistant manager, Dan Holley, piped in. “We can’t put a dollar amount on it, and why would you,” he said.
“There’s a need here in Hazleton,” Wolczyk said. “Whether it be the less fortunate or just getting everybody together. We’re proud to be a part of this. The community supports us, and we’re happy to give back.”