To Care and Concern Food Pantry director Peggy Burke, what happens at the pantry is akin to the Biblical story of the loaves and fishes. Whenever it gets low, she said. Food appears from somewhere.
Not that what happens there is miraculous, but it is amazing. The pantry opened four years ago this month in the old Seton Catholic High School and, since then, has distributed 35,000 bags of food to low-income families in the 15 towns throughout the Pittston and Wyoming areas.
When the pantry first opened, food baskets were distributed to 25 families a week. Today, they are distributed to 80 families a week on a rotating basis.
The pantry has not only grown in quantity, but also in quality. Four years ago, the pantry distributed non-perishables only, such as canned goods and boxes of cereal and pasta.
Now the pantry also distributes milk, donated by Blue Ribbon Farm Dairy; meat and bread, donated by Wal-Mart; and fresh fruits and vegetables donated by an anonymous local businessman.
The pantry also gets food from the Weinberg Regional Food Bank in Wilkes-Barre and Feeding America of which Wal-Mart is a member. We get an enormous amount from Wal-Mart, Burke said.
Then there is the food that appears from somewhere donated by private citizens, VFWs and other clubs, firemen, dance groups and sports teams.
The pantry has also gone digital with a donated computer and has gotten wheels with a donated van.
The 20-plus volunteers range from the food handlers, numerous; to the box cutter, Bob Clarke; to the Information Technology guy, Carl Boos.
The pantry is sponsored by the Care and Concern Ministries of the Parish Community of St. John the Evangelist, which also runs adult and pediatric health clinics and a Children's Clothes Closet.
Msgr. John J. Bendik, pastor of the Parish Community, is impressed by the ministries' projects which began with the health clinic the year before the food pantry. Phenomenal, he said. People were coming to the health clinic asking for food and Peggy asked if we could open a food pantry. These guys work so hard. People in the Greater Pittston community are willing to serve. And it's great that it's here in Seton Catholic. Otherwise, this building wouldn't be used or would have to be rented out and that wouldn't be right. Since the Civil War, this school taught students to serve the community and the Gospel and that continues.
In addition to food distribution every Wednesday, the food pantry runs two special programs, a giveaway of 400 Christmas dinners of turkey with all the trimmings and an adult winter coat giveaway. Right now, the pantry is accepting gently-used adult winter coats.
Burke said the pantry has had the same core group of 24 volunteers for all four years of its existence and could use a few more for the heavy lifting. We're always in need of young men on Wednesday mornings from 10 to 11:15 to carry food bags and baskets out to cars.
Jane Moss, a St. John's parishioner, was inspired to volunteer by her mother, Jane Roche, one of the original 24. I'm here to help out somebody less fortunate, Moss said. We all have a need sometime.
To be eligible for food packages, families must meet income and residency requirements. Call 654-9923 for an appointment or to volunteer or donate. The pantry also accepts donations of non-food items such as detergents, soap and tooth paste.