Once again, Lee County residents, along with the United States Postal Service, came up big for Southwest Floridians in need.
During the 22nd annual National Letter Carrier Food Drive on May 10, Lee County residents donated 366,067 pounds of food - a 14 percent increase over last year.
As a lead recipient, the Harry Chapin Food Bank received 231,368 pounds of food to distribute to their partner agencies, an almost 8 percent increase.
"It was amazing how people stepped up. The letter carriers at the post office worked to make it happen and we get this great food and give it to the non-profits we serve and they do 90 percent of the work," said Al Brislain, president and CEO at the Harry Chapin Food Bank.
The "Stamp Out Hunger" one-day food collection drive benefited food bank and partner agencies that operate pantries and other feeding programs. The food bank will distribute the food collected to participating agencies.
George Sciascia, a postal worker and chairman of the drive, along with Joan Joyce, coordinated postal volunteers and the United Way assisted in soliciting and assigning other volunteers in a process that took three months.
Harry Chapin Food Bank volunteers sorted donated food at eight collection points, and 75 volunteers helped letter carriers collect food left by mailboxes.
"We had more than 300 volunteers helping us with the mail carriers, presorting at the post offices, and bringing it back to the food bank," Joyce said. "And the postal workers, seeing their Jeeps loaded down to where they can't sit."
Publix Supermarkets provided collection bags and postcards reminding residents of the food drive, and their employees also volunteered.
The food drive also benefited from a nice blitz of media coverage.
"We did very well because word-of-mouth helped and we were fortunate to have great mention in the media," Sciascia said. "The more people know about it the better. People in Southwest Florida are generous, but can be forgetful if you don't remind them."
Put it all together and it meant little effort for those who donated. If you could make it to your mailbox, you could donate.
"The best thing is not only that it's a great community effort, but it's easy and that makes for a successful food drive," Joyce said. "You don't have to go anywhere, You just put it by your mailbox."
Anyone can donate nonperishable food items anytime to the Harry Chapin Food Bank warehouse in Fort Myers.
Checks can also be made payable to the Harry Chapin Food Bank and sent to 3760 Fowler St., Fort Myers, FL 33901.
The Harry Chapin Food Bank solicits, collects and stores quality food for distribution to families in need through a network of 150 nonprofit agencies in Lee, Collier, Hendry, Charlotte and Glades counties that provide food to more than 30,000 people monthly.
More than 1 million pounds of food are distributed by the Harry Chapin Food Bank monthly. For each $100 collected, the food bank can distribute $600 worth of food and supplies.
In the past fiscal year, the Harry Chapin Food Bank distributed more than 17.5 million pounds of food and other grocery items valued at more than $29.6 million. This is roughly the equivalent of 14.6 million meals to people in need.
For additional information or to contribute financially call the food bank at 334-7007 or go to harrychapinfoodbank.org.