Letter carriers’ food drive ‘critical’ for area food pantriesPublished 9:06am Tuesday, May 6, 2014
The single most important food drive of the year for area pantries is set to take place this weekend during the National Association of Letter Carriers’ Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive.
Letter carriers across the country will collect non-perishable food items from customers Saturday. To participate, all residents have to do is leave a food donation in a bag by their mailbox. The letter carrier will do the rest.
More than 22,000 pounds of food was collected last year in Niles. Collections are divided up and distributed to three local food pantries: Niles Salvation Army, St. Mary’s Christian Services Center and Niles First Presbyterian Church.
While 22,000 pounds may seem like a big number to most, Jan Nowak of the Niles Salvation Army said donations are down from
several years ago.
“It’s challenging because the amount of support continues to dip downwards every year and, for us, the amount of requests continues to climb,” she said. “It (the food drive) is critical. We literally won’t make it without it. This infusion of goods is so incredibly important to the viability of this pantry remaining open.”
In March, dwindling support caused the Niles Salvation Army to reduce the number of days it is open for food assistance from five days to three. It is now open Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
“I wondered if we’d see a reduction in the number of people we were serving and that hasn’t happened,” she said.
This donation drive is the largest single donation event for local pantries each year.
Pat Paxton, of St. Mary’s Christian Services Center, said the food collected Saturday typically lasts them until summer.
“It is the difference between people being able to have food on their table,” Paxton said. “We are grateful to be included in the program.”
Last year, the letter carriers drive collected more than 74 million pounds of food nationally, feeding an estimated 30 million people. More than a billion pounds of food has been collected in the course of the program’s 21-year history.
Jim Herrmann, Niles Post Office food drive coordinator, said the timing of the drive is critical because food banks often receive the majority of their donations during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday seasons.
“By springtime, many pantries are depleted, entering the summer low on supplies at a time when many school breakfast and lunch programs are not available to children in need,” he said.
According to statistics, 49 million Americans — or 1 in 6 — don’t know where their next meal will come from.
“I invite you to join in America’s great day of giving and help us in our fight to end hunger,” Herrmann said.