Thousands of Scranton area residents who don’t have the resources for a Thanksgiving meal this year will sit down to turkey, stuffing, and other traditional fare, thanks to local families and organizations. The Family to Family Thanksgiving Dinner Program, now in its 29th year, provides Thanksgiving food baskets to local families in need. The food is purchased with donations from the community, and baskets are distributed the day before Thanksgiving at the Scranton Cultural Center.
Jim and Mary Lou Burne of Scranton, PA started the program in 1986 after seeing the poverty that kept many families from enjoying a Thanksgiving meal. They asked their friends to donate $25 to cover the cost of a Thanksgiving dinner and to ask their friends to donate as well, creating a family to family chain. With help from Friends of the Poor, they distributed 640 food baskets that year to families in need, and a tradition was born.
Nearly three decades later the Burne family has retired, but the tradition continues with the Robeson family of Scranton at the helm. Linda Robeson and her son Ryan have volunteered with the Family to Family program for the last 10 years. “This program helps so many people and provides them with a happier Thanksgiving,” says Ryan Robeson.
“Our goal is to raise enough money to help everyone who needs it,” says Linda Robeson. “100 percent of the donations go right to the meals that we give out.”
The program has served more than 340,000 people since it began. Last year, it served 15,000 people, more than half of whom were children. “If you’ve never stood outside the Scranton Cultural Center on the day before Thanksgiving to see the vast number of people who come to get a Thanksgiving basket, you really don’t understand the depth and breadth of value of this program,” says Attorney Chris Munley of Munley Law. Headquartered in Scranton, PA, Munley Law is a long-time sponsor of the Family to Family program and instrumental in getting the word out about the program.
In addition to food baskets, coats are available for those in need at no charge. “On the way out people can stop in the entryway of the Cultural Center where coats are sized and sorted by boys, girls, ladies and men,” says Kathy Terrery of Moosic, whose family is organizing the annual coat drive with help from the Bannon family of Clarks Summit. Local schools and organizations collect coats in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving to donate.
Munley says, “This whole program is distinctly Northeastern Pennsylvania. There are no qualifications. No questions asked. It is humanity.”