CARBONDALE – Even before the emergency food distribution was slated to start outside the Catholic Social Services Carbondale office on July 17, cars were lined up down River Street.

“The need is so intense, I’ve never, never seen it so diverse,” Michelle Santanna, Catholic Social Services Carbondale manager, said. For more than two hours, volunteers and employees handed out boxes of fresh produce and other food items to people in need. “The need is enormous. We get phone calls every day,” Catholic Social Services receptionist Eileen Roman said.

“Wherever somebody comes from, we don’t question them. We just say it’s here for everyone to have.” At the end of a two-hour time period, the emergency food distribution event had helped 338 families. That includes 286 adults, 161 children and 153 seniors.

“The stories are just overwhelming. We know there is a great, great need and a great suffering in a lot of people that come for food here,” Roman added. The beneficiaries of the food distribution were thankful for the helping hand.

“I’m thankful for whatever I get,” Raymond Ward of Carbondale said. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Ward said he has had to make difficult choices between paying bills and buying food.

“It means I’ll be able to pay all my bills,” he added. Seeing all of the volunteers and workers braving the July heat to help their neighbors in need left a lasting impression on Ward. He expects the food he received would be able to last for months.

“It’s like Christmas when you go home, opening it up,” he explained. It’ll probably last three, four months. I’ll stretch it out.” The Catholic Social Services Carbondale office distributes food five days at its pantry but since the COVID-19 pandemic started has also held four emergency food distributions to help individuals and families who are struggling. Santanna says many people have lost jobs, are experiencing long delays in getting unemployment compensation or faced hardships feeding children when schools closed abruptly in March. Since the beginning of the coronavirus, she estimates serving between 1200-1500 families each month just from her office in Carbondale.

“Thank God for the Weinberg Regional Food Bank because we have bags ready on a consistent basis and we are seeing a lot of the same people week by week, it is how they’re feeding their families,” Santanna explained. Organizers say that recipients don’t need to be Catholic or even live in Carbondale to get assistance. They stress they are a community resource open to anyone in need.

“Anyone that needs it can come here to see us for it (food). I’d say there is a great need and we’re here to try and fill that need for all the people that we can,” Roman said.

If you would like to assist the efforts of the Carbondale office of Catholic Social Services to help feed people in our community, monetary donations can be made at emergencyfund or by mailing a donation to Catholic Social Services, 34 River Street, Carbondale, PA 18407.