CARBONDALE – The need of local individuals and families was clearly evident outside the Catholic Social Services Office in Carbondale just before Thanksgiving.

On Tuesday, Nov. 25, the agency distributed 150 turkeys and food baskets to individuals in need of assistance. That number tripled the number of people who received help just one year earlier.

“The demand has been really, really overwhelming this year,” Michelle Santanna, Office Supervisor for Catholic Social Services Carbondale, said. “We try to help whoever we can.”

Wearing masks and remaining socially distant, individuals and families came to pick up food to make their own meals at home, expressing gratitude at every chance.

“I don’t know where I would have turned without this,” Harry Sinawa of Waymart said. “Normally I’m not the guy to come down to a place like this, I would leave it to somebody else, but this year with COVID, it knocked me out of the water.”

Sinawa, who owns his own small tree-cutting business, is used to helping people and giving away free services but during the pandemic his phone hasn’t been ringing as much.

“Some guys have work. Some guys don’t. It has been tough,” he explained.

Crystal Ondrako recently moved from Forest City to Carbondale. She also explained just how difficult managing COVID-19 has been with a husband in the healthcare field and a disabled mother living with her at home.

“We’re all healthy. We’re all doing good,” Ondrako said. “As long as we have each other, that is all that matters.”

As she received a turkey and all the fixings, Ondrako knows her family is not alone.

“It helps a lot especially when you’re trying to buy other groceries and then trying to fit this in, it’s a lot!” she said.

This is the second year that the Catholic Social Services Office in Carbondale has held a special food distribution for Thanksgiving. The agency received assistance from the Ancient Order of Hibernians Division 2 and the United Methodist Church of Carbondale.

“We have people who cry, who want to hug us but can’t this year. It’s heart-warming just knowing it takes such a load off of people’s shoulders,” Santanna explained.

Under normal circumstances, the food distribution would take place indoors where there is a waiting area. Due to COVID-19, all of the food items were distributed at the door.

“It is challenging but we’re managing,” Santanna explained.

Immediately after Thanksgiving, the Catholic Social Services Office in Carbondale will transition to registration for its Gifts for Kids Programs. Sign-ups are required. The registration period will take place from Monday, Nov. 30 to Friday, Dec. 4.