A free Thanksgiving dinner that’s been held for decades in Hazleton won’t be happening this year.

Whether the annual free Christmas dinner will be held this year hasn’t been decided yet.

And the way the Commission on Economic Opportunity operates its food distribution for its Thanksgiving Project will undergo a major revision.

The changes to the 41st annual Thanksgiving Project are the result of the COVID-19 pandemic, explained Ana Garcia of CEO in Hazleton.

“To ensure the safety of our many volunteers and those we serve, and reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, CEO and its partners, Catholic Social Services and the United Charities will alter the program this year,” Garcia explained.

CEO will mail vouchers for free turkeys to families who register. In previous years, folks picked up turkeys and boxes of food from a distribution at the hall at the Queen of Heaven Parish at Our Lady of Grace Church at 13th and Vine streets in Hazleton. More than 1,500 families benefited from the 2019 giveaway.

“We are disappointed to have to change the format of the food distribution for our annual Thanksgiving Project, but it is not safe to host a large-scale gathering of that size and bring potential risk to volunteers and participants alike,” Garcia said.

Attorney David Glassberg, chairman of CEO’s Weinberg Regional Food Bank, said the organizations are looking forward to future food giveaways from Queen of Heaven.

The traditional sit-down Thanksgiving dinner won’t be held this year at Holy Annunciation Parish at St. Gabriel’s Roman Catholic Church in Hazleton. Out of an abundance of caution, home-deliveries also won’t take place, Garcia added. Both events required a large number of volunteers to prepare, serve and deliver the dinners, aside from the number of people the events attract.

Last year, CEO, in cooperation with the United Way and Catholic Social Services, provided more than 400 meals to the home-bound and another 340 people at the church site for Thanksgiving.

Pat Ward, president and CEO of the United Way of Greater Hazleton, said he doesn’t know yet whether the annual Christmas dinner will be held as usual at Holy Rosary Church on South Poplar Street in Hazleton.

“We are considering several options, but we have not yet made a decision,” Ward said Tuesday.

Registration for the Thanksgiving turkey vouchers are being accepted through Nov. 16. Residents of the greater Hazleton area may register online at ceopeoplehelpingpeople.org. Phone registration can be made by calling 570-455-4994 extension 103 between 8:30 and 11 a.m. and from 1 to 4 p.m. weekdays.

Registrants will receive a voucher by mail for a turkey from a local grocery store. Instructions for redemption as well as the store location will be included with the voucher. Local food pantries will have additional food items available should families be in need.

For more information, ceopeoplehelpingpeople.org.

To make a donation, visit www.givefood.org or send to Hazleton Thanksgiving Project, 100 W. Broad St., Suite 11, Hazleton, PA 18201.