With 49 million Americans now unsure of where their next meal will come from, donation and collection of food items to help those less fortunate has become a major undertaking.
The National Association of Letter Carriers created the Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive program 22 years ago. This year's nationwide drive, in partnership with the U.S. Postal Service, Campbell's Soup and Feeding America among others, is slated for Saturday, May 10.
"Judging from the amount of food we got from area snowbirds we are expecting a really good, successful drive this year," said USPS spokesperson Kitty Swanson.
Stamp Out Hunger is recruiting as many volunteers as they can to help with the collection locally. Certain letter carriers also will be picking up donations left at individual mailboxes on their route. Snowbirds who have not yet left Southwest Florida for northern homes may drop off contributions at any post office before May 10.
"People should not get alarmed if they see someone not in an official postal vehicle picking up their donation," said Swanson. "All volunteers will be wearing the purple food drive T-shirts and have a poster on their vehicle identifying them."
The postal service will be sending out postcards marking the event ahead of time and carriers will be dropping off plastic bags donated by Publix at area mailboxes.
The Stamp Out Hunger drive collected more than 74 million pounds of food nationally last year to feed an estimated 30 million people. The drive's timing is crucial since the shelves at many food banks are depleted in the spring. During the summer months, many school breakfast and lunch programs are not available to children in need making the food bank supplies more critical. Of the 49 million in need - 1 in 6 - 16 million are children and five million are seniors over the age of 60.
People are encouraged to fill the food drive bags with non-perishable items and leave them by the mailbox only on May 10. Donations also can be left at any of the Uncle Bob's storage areas in Fort Myers, North Fort Myers and Lehigh Acres.
"Food collected in Cape Coral and Fort Myers goes to the Harry Chapin Food Bank," said Swanson "Other food pantries are the beneficiary of collections in Bonita and LaBelle. Collections in Collier County are given to The Harvest in Naples."
Harry Chapin provides more than a million pounds of food to help more than 30,000 people monthly in Lee, Collier, Hendry Charlotte and Glades counties.
"We will have 300 volunteers here that day to sort the food before it goes out to the various agencies," said Harry Chapin associate director Joyce Jacobs. "This is the biggest one-day food drive of the year for us and people are very generous because it is easy. All they have to do is fill the bag and leave it by their mail box."
Harry Chapin also accepts monetary donations year round.
"People can make out a check to Harry Chapin Food Bank and for every dollar they donate we can turn it into $6 worth of food for the community, said Jacobs.
Anyone wanting to volunteer their time for the day picking up donations in Lee County are asked to call Swanson at (239) 573-9638. Volunteers to sort food items also are needed and should call Tanya Phillips at Harry Chapin at (239) 334-7007, or Kim Berghs at United Way at (239) 433-2000, ext. 260.