Stamping out hunger

Annual U.S. Postal Carrier food drive May 9

By: Maria Allard | C&G Newspapers | Published May 4, 2015

Last year’s magic number was 300,000.

That was approximately how many pounds of food Macomb County residents donated during the National Association of Letter Carriers and U.S. Postal Service “Stamp Out Hunger” Food Drive held in 2014.

Macomb Food Program coordinator Linda Azar said the donations fed more than 140,000 Macomb County residents and that without the Postal Service’s food drive, “I don’t know what we would do.”

The 23rd annual National Association of Letter Carriers and U.S. Postal Service Food Drive is coming up May 9. Macomb County residents wishing to participate can leave nonperishable, nonexpired food items in a bag near their mailboxes before their letter carriers arrive on Saturday.

From there, the postal carriers will pick up the food while delivering mail and bring it back to the post office, where it will then be transported to the Macomb Food Program in Clinton Township. While the food drive is nationwide, all donations in Macomb County stay in the county.

The food, in turn, provides emergency food supplies for thousands of hungry families and individuals in Macomb County. A portion of the food collected in the county is distributed to needy families through the Macomb Food Program’s network of 55 pantries, including St. Mark Catholic Church in Warren, the New Haven Pantry and Grace Episcopal Church in Mount Clemens. Food also is delivered to the Salvation Army in Warren.

Donations of peanut butter, canned tuna fish and chicken, chili, soup, scalloped potatoes, rice and pasta are welcome. Organizers also suggest donations of canned fruits and vegetables, oatmeal, cereal and grits. Also, please check the expiration date.

In some neighborhoods, postal carriers leave plastic bags with a postcard for residents to use on Stamp Out Hunger day. Azar said sometimes there aren’t enough plastic bags. People who live in condominiums or apartment complexes or other places without porches are welcome to leave donations by their mailboxes.

“We try to stay away from sugar and flour (bags),” Azar said, adding that they are heavy for postal workers to carry and likely to rip. Another item organizers discourage people from donating is baby food.

“There are strict guidelines on baby food, and the jars can easily break,” Azar said. “There’s also a very sensitive expiration date on baby food.”

Azar performs a number of inspections at the various food pantries, and sometimes meets the families and individuals that receive donations brought in from the food drive.

“They’re always very, very thankful,” Azar said. “It’s rewarding to know that we’re helping people every day.”

And everyone has a different story to tell. 

“It’s very eye-opening. It’s more of a temporary need  for someone whose situation has changed. Maybe someone has been doing fine and then lost their job. They need to pay their house payment or car payment,” Azar said. “(There are) seniors on a fixed income, or someone’s SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits have been cut.”

According to Azar, many food bank donations come in during Thanksgiving and Christmas. But by spring, those shelves begin to deplete, so the post office drive comes just at the right time.

“That helps supplement for the whole year,” Azar said.

During the year, food program organizers hold fundraisers to raise money to purchase frozen foods, including meats, for the program. They also received monetary contributions from donors.

Retired Sterling Heights postal employee Michael Sheridan said the food drive “takes place in over 10,000 cities across America.”

“It started out in the Phoenix, Arizona, area,” Sheridan said. “They tried it in 10 cities across America.” Sheridan said that because the food drive had “such a great response,” organizers decided to hold it nationwide.

Since then, Sheridan said the annual event has collected 1.13 billion pounds of food nationwide.

“We see the people who are in need,” Sheridan said. “They’re on our routes on a daily basis.”

The postal carriers get help on Stamp Out Hunger day from their families, who pick up food donations while mail is delivered.

Sheridan added that local Vietnam veterans, Baker College students, church groups and civic organizations help sort the food once it is collected. He also said that truck drivers from Teamsters Local No. 299, based in Detroit, volunteer their time to transport the food.

“We have a lot of support,” Sheridan said. “It is great giving back to the community.”

A kickoff event for the postal service food drive will be held at 10 a.m. May 7 at Gleaners Community Food Bank, located at 2131 Beaufait St. in Detroit.