Saturday is a rare day. The one day a year you can place something at your mailbox and have it delivered without worrying about having proper postage.
For the 26th year, the National Association of Letter Carriers will conduct its Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive where residents can leave a bag of non-perishable groceries by their mailboxes, which letter carriers will then collect and distribute to local food banks and charities.
Last year, the food drive collected more than 75 million pounds of groceries, enough to provide 30 million meals, nationwide. In Mississippi, letter carriers collected 106,000 pounds, enough for 85,000 meals, said Marilyn Blackledge of the Mississippi Food Network, which helps coordinate the distribution of the food on the state level.
“All of the food collected stays in the local communities,” Blackledge said. “I think that’s part of the reason for its success. People want to help their neighbors.”
Letter carriers in both Columbus and Starkville are participating in Saturday’s food drive.
“Last year, I think we collected just a shade under 3,000 pounds,” said Columbus letter carrier Harold Trimm, the president of the local chapter of the National Letter Carriers Association. “In the past, we’ve done better than that.”
Statewide, 63 cities and towns are participating, and Trimm said rural carriers also collect food.
“Even though their post office doesn’t participate, if people leave food, the letter carriers collect it and bring it to us,” Trimm said. “If you leave food, it’s going to get picked up and we’ll get it.”
Trimm said he’s participated in the food drive since joining the postal service 12 years ago.
“The response is pretty good,” he said. “Usually about one-in-five houses make donations. In some neighborhoods, it’s even more than that. One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that, a lot of times, it’s the people in the poorer neighborhoods that participate the most. I guess they know how important it is. Maybe they’ve been in a situation like that, too.”
Lanetta Brown, who works in the Starkville Post Office, is coordinating the food drive in Starkville.
“The food we collect goes to a group of churches who provide food pantries,” Brown said. “We will collect the food, weigh it and then it’s available for the churches to pick up at the end of the day.”
In Starkville, letter carriers left bags for residents to place their donations. In Columbus, post cards announcing the food drive were delivered as part of the regular mail service.
In Columbus, the food is distributed by the United Way of Lowndes County.
“The food will go to probably five or six different organizations,” said Danny Avery, director of United Way of Lowndes County. “We put out the word to the organizations that have food pantries or provide meals — Recovery House, Last House on the Block for men, Last House on the Block for women, Safe Haven and local food banks. This particular food drive usually doesn’t produce a lot of bulk items. Usually, when we get bulk donations, they’ll go to places like Loaves and Fishes, where they serve a lot of meals at once.”
Avery said that this food drive comes at a good time.
“A lot of families have children who are out of school who don’t have access to the free lunch programs at school,” he said. “For them, it really helps out.”
Blackledge said all non-perishable foods are welcomed, but he encourages donors to consider donations that are high in nutrition.
“Vegetables, fruits in light syrup, proteins like chicken and tuna, those are all great things to donate,” she said. “Soups are good, too, because they can be eaten as they are or used to put together a meal. Really, we love when people think about what it takes to put together a meal and pick up two or three items for that meal.”
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.