The families begin showing up at 8 a.m., two hours before the food pantry volunteers carry the first bags of food to cars.
Over two hours, the lines of cars grow. Anxiously, the folks awaiting their food watch as volunteers sort the day’s offerings, prepping for the 10 a.m. “opening.’’
“People really count on this. There is a need.’’ said Beatrice Price, one of 14 volunteers working at the Sweet Valley Church of Christ food distribution on a sunny and warm September morning.
“We try to be God’s hands reaching out to the needy,’’ Price said.
The food has been donated by Sweet Valley area residents or has come from the Weinberg Food Bank in Pittston Twp. A large truck arrived at the Sweet Valley church about 8:30 a.m. Volunteers unloaded meat and produce and immediately began sorting and packaging the items.
It takes about one hour to serve the 75 to 80 households that show up, on average, on the first Friday of the month. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the food giveaway is held outdoors, utilizing a parking lot, driveway and a massive pavilion behind the church.
The distribution is held in Sweet Valley, in the far northwest corner of Luzerne County, but it is open to any person or family in need. Those served fill out forms annually, certifying their residency in the county and the fact that they need food on which to survive.
The Sweet Valley operation is a carbon-copy of distributions taking place nationwide. Millions of families are receiving donated food to stay afloat during a pandemic aggravated by job losses.
Oddly, the demand has remained constant and matches pre-COVID levels, said Cindy Rood, a volunteer and church finance director.
The pantry’s offerings are varied and nutritious. Each family could expect to receive a bag containing chicken and fish (from the Weinberg bank); a bag of non-perishable food such as cereal, pasta, canned soup and beans (from local donations); a box of non-perishable items from Weinberg; two bags of corn (one from Weinberg and one freshly picked the night before the giveaway from adult and teen volunteers; bags of produce including melons, cabbage, tomatoes, peppers, green beans, sweet potatoes, apples, oranges and lemons, from Weinberg.
A local farmer donated the corn bagged by volunteers.
In addition to the donated food, the Sweet Valley food pantry buys food with donations. Cindy Rood said donations come from “far and away … former area residents now living in North Carolina and South Carolina see us on Facebook. They want to help.’’
And the food recipients are “so grateful,’’ Rood says. Carrying her clipboard, she works her way along the lines of cars, greeting people and double-checking on eligibility. Some cars have representatives of two families and a sticker is placed on the windshield to alert the bag-toting volunteers.
Beatrice Price, on hand with her son, Todd, 18, and daughter, Juliet, 13, said the food recipients “really count on this.’’
“We are grateful to CEO and the Weinberg food bank,’’ she said.
Juliet Price is doing double-duty in the battle against hunger. She is a Dairy Maid in the Luzerne County Dairy Court, which supports farmers and encourages people to drink milk. Juliet works on behalf of the Fill A Glass With Hope campaign and raises funds used to buy milk from local dairy farmers. The money goes to CEO, which often distributes milk to the needy via its food pantry-support plan.
“For every dollar that we raise, we fill eight glasses with milk,’’ Juliet said.
Dairy Court personnel can be spotted at local events such as ribbon cuttings, fairs (when they are open) and the like.
Heather Weiner spoke for all of the donors and volunteers as she proclaimed the food pantry “a real blessing.’’
Sweet Valley Church of Christ dates to the 1800s, said Dan Rood, a member of the 200-member congregation that is led by pastor Rocky Bonomo.
Food pantries, soup kitchens and other agencies serving the needy are open to all people.
About the Weinberg Food Bank
The Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Northeast Regional Food Bank services charitable organizations by providing food to alleviate hunger and promote proper nutrition, particularly among children and the elderly, according to the agency’s website.
The Food Bank provides food assistance to faith-based and 501©3 non-profit community organizations to distribute to needy families. These include food pantries, homeless shelters, soup kitchens, group homes for the disabled, day care centers, children’s camps and senior citizens programs. In the last year, the Weinberg Food Bank distributed more than 5 million pounds of food to more than 160 agencies.
The food bank takes donations of “wholesome but unmarketable food” from the food industry and distributes it to the organizations; the food bank works to reduce hunger and promote proper nutrition in addition to preventing food waste.
The food bank serves Lackawanna, Luzerne, Susquehanna, and Wyoming counties.
Any organization interested in becoming a member agency should contact the food bank.
How to donate
Anyone can help feed the needy by making a donation. Here are several ways to donate:
The Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Northeast Regional Food Bank, 185 Research Drive, Pittston, PA 18640.
Sweet Valley Food Bank, c/o Sweet Valley Church of Christ, 5439 Main Road, Sweet Valley PA 18656.
Or to your local food pantry.
Community need, at a glance …
The U.S. Census Bureau says 38.1 million people, or 11.8 percent of the population, live in poverty.
Poverty guidelines: $12,490 in income for one person; $16,910 for two people; $21,330 for three people; add $4,420 for each additional person in household.
Some sociologists and government officials say that poverty in the U.S. is understated, meaning that there are more households living in actual poverty than there are households below the poverty thresholds.
A recent NPR report said that as many as 30 percent of Americans have trouble making ends meet. A study in 2012 estimated that about 38 percent of Americans live “paycheck to paycheck.”