A day of giving started early Thursday in Luzerne County.
Starting at 8 a.m., volunteers packed the first floor of First Presbyterian Church in Wilkes-Barre, bagging close to 400 hot Thanksgiving dinners for the elderly and homebound.
That number accounted for only a small portion of the approximately 10,000 Thanksgiving meals given away this week by charities and nonprofit organizations in Luzerne County, but it was enough to keep volunteers busy.
Workers carved and portioned about 25 turkeys home-cooked in the ovens of volunteers, passing them to others who packed them along with drinks in paper bags lined up in the church lobby, while at a nearby table other volunteers plotted delivery routes.
We are really lucky that even though our numbers grow every year our volunteers show up in greater numbers every year too, said Maura Modrovsky, volunteer coordinator for the Commission for Economic Opportunity, which organized the delivery program.
Mark Davis of Pittston has volunteered to pack dinners for CEO for the past 16 years with his daughter Ashley, 22, and more recently with his son Kyle, now 15.
It was probably one of the best things I did for my kids as a dad, Davis said. I wanted to show them that not everybody has it the way they have it, because we not only package the food, we hand-deliver it.
I can remember the faces; I can remember the people, added Ashley Davis, who now lives in Nashville, Tenn. They're just so incredibly grateful.
CEO, home of the county's regional food bank, also delivered more than 8,000 uncooked meal kits to needy families this week, and area churches, charities and businesses spooned out hundreds more turkey dinners at community dinners.
At Theo's Metro in Kingston, co-owner Cathy Theodorelos was as busy as any mother on Thanksgiving. She spent the late morning and afternoon spooning about 250 hot turkey, mashed potato and stuffing dinners onto plates and topping each with a generous ladle of gravy, as a full staff of cooks and servers ran plates and trays around her.
Theodorelos and her husband, Peter, began giving away free Thanksgiving meals at their restaurant on Mercer Avenue about 15 years ago. What started as a way of saying thank you to customers attended by 30 or 40 has grown to serve more than 200 in recent years, said Faye Settas, daughter of Peter and Cathy Theodorelos.
When he was younger he went through a bad time in his life where he didn't have a lot to eat, Settas said of her father. He came from Greece. When he came to this area he had nothing; so, he likes to give back for what the area gave him.
Connie Kostelac of Pringle, a nursing home employee, had to work Thursday. She said she will cook Thanksgiving dinner for her family on Sunday, but stopped by Theo's Metro for a turkey lunch with a friend Thursday morning.
I've been here for the last three years, Kostelac said. I think it's wonderful what he does for the community. There's a lot of people that need it.
More than 130 packed the basement of Forty Fort United Methodist Church in neighboring Forty Fort to share a community meal served by church volunteers Thursday afternoon, and attendees said it really was a community affair.
I have a lot of friends who are here, said Jeanne Shuella of Kingston, who grew up in Forty Fort and was married in the United Methodist Church. Some of them are serving the meals; it's like a class reunion.
We both have a lot of the same friends and a lot of my neighbors are here, added Curt Piazza of Kingston as he dined across the table from Shuella. It's a nice way to get together with friends.
Those meals and more than 100 others packaged for pickup and delivery were cranked out by a volunteer under the direction of church member Jim Biehl, a volunteer at the dinner since 1990.
I don't know where I'd be today if I wasn't here, Biehl said after wrapping up the meal service.
The atmosphere was more somber at the St. Vincent De Paul Kitchen in Wilkes-Barre, where volunteers handed out meals to the homeless and hungry much as they would other days, but the charity kitchen made efforts to give its clients a special treat for their holiday meal.
Rather than the normal buffet service, volunteers served plated turkey dinners to guests family-style.
The people that are coming here don't have any family, said Chef Manager Michael Cianciotta. They don't have any place to eat, so we want them to have a little home for the holidays.
Other charities and organizations around the area also served holiday meals on Thursday, including First Baptist Church, Pittston; Christian Missionary and Alliance Church, West Pittston; Salvation Christian Center, Wilkes-Barre; Community Bible Fellowship of Hazleton, Hazleton; and St. Gabriel's Church, Hazleton.