When James Burne first met the late Sister Adrian Barrett 30 years ago, he offered his help to the woman who came to be known as “the Mother Teresa of Scranton.”
A couple of months later, the phone rang.
“Could you help me feed some families?” he recalled the nun asking. “(His wife, Mary Lou) said, ‘Sure, Sister. We’ll do whatever we can. How many families?’ And she said: ‘About 600.’”
The ensuing collaboration grew into the annual Family-to-Family initiative that last year distributed 3,000 Thanksgiving baskets to the needy, feeding an estimated 15,000 disadvantaged people.
The fundraising and volunteer recruitment effort for the Family-to-Family basket giveaway — scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 25, this year — once again kicked off Friday as the Burne family, after 28 years running the event, passed the baton to longtime volunteers Linda Robeson and her 24-year-old son, Ryan.
Speaking to a group of volunteers and supporters at the Masonic Temple in Scranton, Mr. Robeson said by the time he was old enough to carry a turkey and a bag of groceries, his mom had him helping out.
Over the years he grew to understand the value of his family’s volunteerism.
“When you really think about the number of people who come to our program, it can be quite overwhelming,” he said. “What I found that gets lost in the large number is the individual. That’s 3,000 individual people with 3,000 individual stories of how and why they are here and how and why they need help. … There’s 3,000 people who can now give their family a happy Thanksgiving without worrying about how they can put food on the table.”
Sister Ann Walsh, executive director of Friends of the Poor, said the beneficiaries are people like the region’s working poor whose budgets are stretched thin, the elderly who can’t count on a Social Security cost of living adjustment this year and the swelling ranks of free and reduced-price school lunch recipients.
“Truly, they are our neighbors,” she said.
Despite the death of Sister Adrian last month and the leadership transition, Sister Walsh said organizers are committed to strengthening the Thanksgiving program.
“Although (Sister Adrian) is not physically present with us here today, we know that her spirit is palpable among us,” Sister Walsh said. “She will never leave us, and her legacy lives on forever.”