Next Saturday, before you head out to the lake for the fishing opener or travel to visit your mother, don’t forget to put out your bag of donations by the mailbox for the 25th Annual Letter Carrier “Stamp Out Hunger” food drive.
On May 13, letter carriers across the Northland and nation will make it easy to give to your local food shelf. The National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) is asking people to fill one or more bags with non-perishable, non-expired food and place them by their mailboxes by 9 a.m.
“This is an incredibly important drive and we try to make it as easy as possible,” said drive coordinator and CHUM food shelf distributive director. “With lots of other drives, you have to come to the food shelf or go to a specific location. Here you just need to go to your mailbox. The carriers and volunteers will take it from there.”
Foods donated will stay in local food shelves and given to those in need throughout the summer months. Last year, 153,104 pounds of food were collected from across the Northland and nationally it is the largest-single day food drive. Over 25 years, the NALC has collected 1.5 billion pounds of food across the country.
“It’s my favorite day of the year because I feel like we’re doing something for the community,” said Scott Dulas, president of the letter carrier’s union in Duluth and coordinator of the drive. “But it’s not just us. It’s the customers who are donating to their own communities. And the volunteers who help us pick up and sort through the donations.”
According to Dulas, about 100 volunteers show up on the day of the drive at the main post office to help collect, sort, and distribute the donations. More volunteers are welcome to help this year and can contact Scott Van Daele at 727-2391 for more information.
Why does the food drive occur in early May each year? It’s not a random selection. According to Van Daele, May is usually the month when food shelves run low on supplies.
“Donations pick up every year around the holidays, but by May the shelves can get really slim,” Van Daele said. “Which is really difficult because the summer months tend to be the busier months of the year for food shelves.”
The weather is also a factor, although Dulas said he’s collected food in anything from snowy conditions to sunny days.
“It’s unfortunate that almost every year it lands on Mother’s Day weekend and fishing opener for us in Minnesota. But it’s such good timing for the food shelves,” Dulas said. “It’s also right before school lets out and families that rely on free or reduced lunches have visit food shelves more often.”
Individuals who miss the actual drive day due to travel plans that Saturday can also put out donations the following Monday, May 15.
What donations benefit food shelves the most? Van Daele says to think about the items that you eat and tend to run out of the most.
“We’re trying to sway people away from donating the stuff that they wouldn’t want to eat. We’re more likely to give away food like peanut butter, tuna fish, canned fruit, cereal. The hearty proteins and staples that people need all the time,” Van Daele said.
These include the aforementioned peanut butter, pasta, rice, canned vegetables and fruits, canned meat and beans. Items that don’t tend to move off shelves or can’t be properly distributed include fish balls, slugs, clam juice, unlabeled or dented cans and homemade foods.
“We do sometimes get things like homemade canned pig’s feet,” Dulas said. “Or worse yet, we have someone who cleans out their cupboards after five years and everything’s expired. But for the most part, people are good enough to check those dates and donate helpful things.”
Postal carriers will distribute plastic donation bags throughout the week. Letter carriers ask for individuals who wish to donate to place the bags outside around 9 a.m.
“Even if your individual mail carrier doesn’t usually show up until noon, the volunteers will be out and about earlier that day so it helps us to get those bags out earlier,” Dulas said.