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Volunteers pack up a car with donated food and other products.

When you have 85 tons of food to give away, it makes for a busy weekend.

The United Community Outreach (UCO) Helping Hands food pantry, which has its headquarters at the Peckville Assembly of God Church in Blakely, has seen a large increase in the amounts of food it has received and was able to give away free in its weekly distributions.

Last Friday, Dec. 28, and Sunday, Dec. 30, the group distributed 170,000 pounds of food to people from the local communities, the largest amount of food and other products the church has ever distributed at one time. More than 500 turkeys, hams and other USDA choice meats, along with fresh produce, paper products, ice cream and more were included in the distributions. The food has been donated by church members, Weinburg Regional Food Bank, Winter Harvest Farms, Proctor and Gamble and other businesses, according to Winnie Patton of United Community Outreach Food Distribution.

It is a drive-through distribution: no one needs to get out of cars, which is very convenient for the handicapped and senior citizens.

“We have been doing [the distributions] for more than 15 years,” Patton said. “We started back when Peckville Assembly of God was still on Keystone Ave., with just a closet of food to give out, but the distribution has so many people getting food that it was dangerous to be on a main road. So UCO relocated to a warehouse in Eynon, but after a few years it outgrew that and was causing traffic problems on the roads in Eynon.

“At the same time, Peckville Assembly of God relocated to the Scranton-Carbondale Highway in Blakely and built a pavilion which was adequate for storage along. The large parking lot alleviated the traffic problems. As the amount of people being served increased so did the amount of food from Weinburg as well as food from Sam’s Club.”

Eventually, the church was able to build a large multi-purpose building and allotted United Community Outreach a portion of it for the food pantry. This was adequate for some time, but freezer space and refrigeration was necessary. In 2017, Moses Taylor Foundation awarded UCO a grant to build a large free-standing cooler/freezer which, with the help of the church, was able to be built on the property close to the multipurpose building warehouse. Through a state grant, United Community Outreach was able to provide for air conditioning and heating in the multipurpose building. This has allowed UCO to be able to store the large amounts of fresh produce such as what was delivered this week. Previously, it would have frozen in the steel building or rotted in the summer months.

“We are very appreciative of all of our donors, partners and community who contribute to this great community service, especially the more than 40 volunteers who gave their time weekly to arrange, sort, pack and distribute the food and those who help register the participants,” Patton said.

In the future , we are hoping to be able to acquire through monetary donations or grants an awning that would cover the sidewalk along the multipurpose building to protect the food and the volunteers since this is where the food is placed for distribution.

There will be another distribution on Friday, Jan. 4, 9 a.m. to noon.

United Community Outreach has food distributions every Friday with registration from 9 a.m. to noon for anyone in Lackawanna County. Proof of residence in Lackawanna County by current driver’s license or paid utility or rent receipts with name and current address is required to register. For family members living in the same household, a copy of a current driver’s license or proof of insurance for minor children is needed. There is no delivery available for the food distribution.

Distributions are also conducted after the 11 a.m. service. For more information call 570-489-4961 ext. 114.