Help ‘Stamp out Hunger’ Saturday
Anyone who receives mail can help their food-insecure neighbors – particularly children – this summer by leaving a special package for postal workers Saturday, May 13.
Since 1983, the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) has conducted the nation’s largest food drive on the second Saturday in May. St. Petersburg will join over 10,000 municipalities and unincorporated areas in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam to Stamp out Hunger.
Participating in the event is simple but provides a much-needed boost to nonprofits when shelves are bare and schools close for summer. Residents leave bags of non-perishable food items next to their mailbox before Saturday’s mail delivery, and letter carriers gather the groceries as they work their routes.
Al Friedman, president of the Tarpon Springs-based Florida chapter of NALC, stressed the importance of neighbors helping neighbors as the cost-of-living soars.
“There’s just a higher demand today,” Friedman said. “Not only food prices but also the economy. These families are deciding if they eat, buy gas or pay the electric bill.”
As of 2021, 51.7% of Pinellas County Schools (PCS) children received free or reduced lunches because their families were considered “economically disadvantaged.” Many also receive breakfast, and those meals disappear in about two weeks.
Melinda Perry, interim CEO of Pinellas-based Hope Villages of America (HVA), receives groceries from six post offices throughout the area. Her organization distributes food throughout the county and shares what it amasses with smaller nonprofits.
HVA typically receives 100,000 pounds of food during the event. However, Perry noted every ounce is needed to get through the summer, when “folks are out busy living their lives,” and the flow of donations slows to a trickle.
“During the summer, when the kids aren’t in school, they’re not getting that breakfast and lunch,” Perry added. “This really helps ensure the food available to provide to those kids who need it the most during the summer.”
She elaborated that churches and companies start conducting food drives in the fall, and children return to school. Donations substantially increase around Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Perry reiterated that the greatest need is in summer – when giving is also at its lowest point. In addition, she said more people than ever struggle to afford food.
“You know, a carton of eggs is like $7,” she said. “It makes it really hard for families who maybe lost a job or had a medical issue to spend their limited funds on groceries. It just doesn’t stretch as far as it used to.”
Perry explained that postal workers delivered bags in which to put the food throughout the past week, and any old grocery bag would suffice. She noted people don’t have to leave their houses if they have extra food in the pantry, and the small act of kindness “makes a difference in the lives of thousands of people” in the area.
The most sought-after items are canned meat, beans, ravioli and spaghetti with meatballs. Perry also urges people to think about the kids and donate cracker packs and individually wrapped fruit snacks.
In addition to residents, she expressed her gratitude to postal workers. Letter carriers often walk their routes in urban areas like St. Petersburg, and Perry noted that they must carry extra weight and work later on a Saturday.
“And I’m sure they’re anxious to get home to their families before Mother’s Day,” Perry added. “We couldn’t do it without them.”
Friedman hopes to collect at least four million pounds throughout Florida and said the state often paces the nation. In 2019 – before a pandemic-induced hiatus – Florida postal workers collected 10 million pounds of groceries.
St. Petersburg residents gave over a million pounds of food that year. Friedman said Tampa didn’t receive a full allotment of bags and donated around 700,000 pounds.
He noted that people living in apartments or condominiums could leave their donations in mailrooms. Postal officials also utilize volunteers, typically teenage students in specially marked trucks, who help letter carriers gather the groceries and receive 15 to 20 community service hours for their efforts.
Perry also needs volunteers to help sort and distribute the food in the coming months.
Friedman said it is common for letter carriers on vacation or with a scheduled Saturday off to work during Stamp Out Hunger. He often reminds them that 12 million kids in America go to bed hungry every night.
“And I say, ‘That number is going to rise now that school is out, and you can make the difference,’” Friedman added.
For more information on Hope Villages of America, visit the website here.