Letter carriers make strides to stamp out hunger

Letter carriers make strides to stamp out hunger

Photo provided by Jim Hunter

Letter carriers make strides to stamp out hunger

By: Charity Meier | Metro | Published May 8, 2023


METRO DETROIT — Letter carriers across southeastern Michigan will be making strides to Stamp Out Hunger during their 31st annual food drive on Saturday, May 13.

Postal workers aided by their families and numerous volunteers will be collecting nonperishable goods from residents. Residents will place nonperishable goods on their porches across the country for the drive, which is put on by the National Association of Letter Carriers.

According to Kevin “Ohio” Walker, NALC shop steward and food drive office coordinator with the Walled Lake post office, it is the largest one-day food drive in the world.

“We want the community to help spread the word that the Stamp Out Hunger food drive is helping to feed the hungry in Macomb County,” Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel said in a press release. “It’s an incredibly important opportunity for residents to give back and help their neighbors. So I’m hoping we can all come together to support those in need.”

Jim Hunter, of the Birmingham post office, is the assistant regional coordinator for the food drive covering the “KIM Region” of Kentucky, Indiana and Michigan. He has been with the postal service for 39 years and involved with the food drive since its inception. He said the NALC food drive was established after several branches held successful food drives in a few smaller towns.

The NALC thought it was something that could and should be done nationwide, and it held a successful pilot drive in October 1991 in 10 cities. After getting feedback from food pantries, NALC decided that the best time to hold the drive was in May, as pantries by that time have used a lot of the food resources that they accumulated during the holidays. The revamped drive was held May 15, 1993, and is now held annually on the second Saturday in May.

Among the reasons Hunter got involved is that sometimes letter carriers are so busy that they don’t eat.

“So then your stomach starts growling and stuff like that. So it just gets in my head, and I just imagine some little kid going through the same thing. You know, it’s tough,” said Hunter.

Walker, a nine-year veteran of the United States Postal Service, said he chose to get involved in the food drive because he personally has known what it is like to be hungry.

“I know the need. I’ve lived the need in my own life prior to starting with the post office, and so for a chance to be able to collect food and to be able to get it out to the people in my own community that need it, I’d be happy to do that every weekend if I could,” Walker said.

Food programs such as those at Macomb Community Action and Gleaners Community Food Bank are seeing an increased need for food.

“The food drive is critical to our mission to feed the hungry,” Shannon Mallory, program manager, Macomb Food Program, said in a press release. “We are seeing unprecedented levels of need, accompanied with rising food costs. As a result, this food drive is more important than ever.”

Katie Body, community giving coordinator for Gleaners, said there are two reasons for this increase. The first is due to inflation.

“Across the board right now, I think everybody, regardless of how food secure they are, is noticing that groceries are just costing a lot more,” Body said.

She said the second reason for the increase in need is that a COVID-19-era food assistance benefit for those receiving the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program ended in March.

“This food drive is really timely for us for that reason, but regardless of the specific circumstances that are going on right now, every year, this specific food drive is our largest food drive at Gleaners. So we really rely on this food drive to bring in a large portion of the food that we are able to distribute each year. So it really just means a lot to us at Gleaners that we are able to sort of count on this food drive every year to basically stock our shelves for quite a few months.”

Every 4 pounds of food that Gleaners receives will provide three meals for people in need, according to the food bank.

“So the more pounds that we can bring in, the more meals we can provide, and that’s ultimately the goal, is to just meet the need and bring in as much as we can this year to try and help with that end,” said Body.

According to Hunter, his NALC Branch #3126 saw a decline of around 40,000 pounds of food since returning to in-person collection in 2022. In 2019, he said, they collected 183,821 pounds of food, but in 2022, they only were able to collect 145,464 pounds. In 2019, Novi accounted for over 7,000 pounds of food, but in 2022, Novi accounted for 4,496 pounds. Royal Oak has remained strong. Last year, Royal Oak alone brought in 46,000 pounds of food.

“We attribute it to the pandemic. We think people maybe forgot about it,” said Hunter.

During the food drive, residents are asked to place nonperishable goods in a grocery bag on their porch for their letter carrier to pick up. Body said they will accept all nonperishable items, but they are particularly in need of shelf-stable proteins such as canned chicken, canned tuna, peanut butter, canned or dry beans, and one that she said people don’t usually think of — shelf-stable protein drinks such as Boost and Ensure.

“We have a lot of senior citizens that rely on those protein drinks to get their protein and calories in, if they don’t have an appetite,” Body said.

Food pantries in conjunction with Kroger, the NALC, and countless volunteers spend numerous hours folding and stapling grocery bags to postcards to inform residents of the event and provide a receptacle for the canned goods. The USPS will then mail the postcards and bags to around 1 million people through southeastern Michigan. Body said the folding and stapling of bags began in January, and Hunter said that providing a bag with the postcards, rather than the postcards alone, yields a return of 40% more food.

“It’s amazing, once we attached that bag, how much more food we got,” he said.

According to a press release from Macomb Community Action, last year the letter carrier drive brought in 209,055 pounds of food for Macomb area families. According to Hunter, the drive brought in a total of 835,669 pounds of food in southeastern Michigan in 2022 and more than 2 million pounds of food statewide. Nationally, it brought in 41.2 million pounds of food. Since its founding 31 years ago, it has brought in 1.82 billion pounds of food.

Along with donating to Gleaners, which has a network of 600 food pantries throughout southeastern Michigan, the drive will provide food to organizations including Active Faith Community Services in South Lyon, Cares of Farmington Hills, Hospitality House in Walled Lake, the Royal Oak Salvation Arm, and St. James Catholic Church in Novi.

Residents can also donate money to a virtual donor drive found on the Gleaners website, gcfb.org.