Letter carriers across the country will canvas the streets on Saturday for the 21st annual nationwide food drive, “Stamp Out Hunger.” Since 1993, the National Association of Letter Carriers, along with the U.S. Postal Service, have teamed up to collect more than 1 billion pounds of food for food banks across the nation. The event is the nation’s largest single-day food drive, with Rhode Island being involved the last 19 years.
According to an annual study released last year by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) using data collected in December 2011, 14.9 percent of Americans are “food insecure,” which means 1 in 6 Americans lives in a household at risk of hunger.
More than 50 million Americans, including nearly 17 million children, are in this predicament. Nearly 6 million of them are fed by food banks on a weekly basis.
For the annual drive, the organizations call on residents to leave non-perishable food items that do not require refrigeration, including canned soup, canned vegetables, pasta, rice, canned beans, canned meats and fish, boxed cereals and bottled juice, in a sturdy bag in or near their mailboxes in the morning for carriers to collect as they deliver mail. Please do not include items that have expired or are in glass containers.
“People just buy food, leave it in a bag outside their house and a carrier will pick it up,” said Warwick Post Office mail carrier Jim Harrington, a Cranston resident who serves as the local coordinator for the drive. He is also the union steward, as well as the congressional district liaison for the National Association of Letter Carriers.
“We’ll take any non-perishable food items,” he said.
Harrington has been working at Warwick Post Office since 2004 and has been coordinator for three years. In the past, he said 100 percent of the food collected locally went directly to the Rhode Island Community Food Bank, with the donations being delivered to the location on the Cranston/Providence line at 200 Niantic Avenue. But to help people in need who have trouble finding transportation, Harrington has arranged for food to be dropped off to the West Shore Food Bank and Rhode Island Family Shelter, both in Warwick. About half of the food collected will go to the Food Bank, with the other half evenly split and distributed to West Shore Food Bank and Rhode Island Family Shelter.
Not only does this method save time, it saves money.
“This way, we can transport it right to them and they don’t have to pay for the transportation fee,” said Harrington. “We’re trying to cut out the middle man.”
Still, a majority of the food collected in Rhode Island will be delivered to the Rhode Island Community Food Bank, helping to feed more than 60,000 people who depend on the organization’s emergency food programs. One-third of the people served are children under the age of 18.
As a means to encourage more people to donate, Harrington recently worked out an arrangement with three Warwick Stop & Shop locations. To his pleasure, staffers agreed to place receptacles at their stores for the collection of non-perishable food items. He said the gentleman at the Stop & Shop on Warwick Avenue was very helpful in launching the initiative.
“It’s a phenomenal feeling to be able to do something so local and so easy and actually help out,” said Harrington. “With more organizations to give food to, it’s worth a shot.”
For more information about the food drive, visit www.helpstampouthunger.com.