Stamp Out Hunger set for May 11

Posted 5/3/19

SILER CITY — It’s business as usual on any given day for the Post Office to be bustling with activity, a stream of letters and packages constantly coming and going.

But for the thousands of …

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Stamp Out Hunger set for May 11

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Posted

SILER CITY — It’s business as usual on any given day for the Post Office to be bustling with activity, a stream of letters and packages constantly coming and going.

But for the thousands of men and women distributing mail nationwide on Saturday, May 11, activity will be busier than usual, with letter carriers bringing back as much, and likely more, than the mail they left with.

On that day, the U.S. Postal Service’s Stamp Out Hunger food drive — always held on the second Saturday in May — will be conducted. This spring, the program marks its 27th installment.

For letter carriers, it means additional work, but they say they don’t mind, because the extra toting is for a good cause, helping address the issue of hunger.

But it’s not all on the carriers.

To make the event a success, the Post Office depends on help from the rest of us.

To that end, Post Offices are asking customers to bag up nonperishable food items (appropriately dated for consumption) and place them by your mailbox on May 11 for your carrier to pick up and take back to the Post Office. From there, the collected food will be distributed in the community to those who need the help.

For the Siler City Post Office, that means thousands of pounds of food for the West Chatham Food Pantry.

Last year, Siler City’s letter carriers handled donations totaling approximately 5,000 pounds, said Siler City Post Office manager Walt Amos. The year before, Siler City postal workers transported more than 3,000 pounds of food.

“It’s a good thing for the community,” said Amos, who’s been with the U.S. Postal Service for 14 years. “Our carriers take pride in doing this, even though it’s a little extra work, because there are hungry people in our community, people that don’t have something to eat. There’s a need.”

In advance of the food drive, postal customers — including P.O. box users — early next week will receive in the mail a post card alerting them to the drive (it’s written in English and Spanish) and a blue, plastic shopping bag they may use to package donations.

“We’ve done very well in the past with the food drive,” said Amos. “And there’s a real need here.”

Volunteers with the West Chatham Food Pantry, in operation now for 12 years, confirm this.

“We serve about 175 families a week, people that need food,” said Ken McPherson, who is one of 300 or so people who volunteer their time, in some capacity, for the local non-profit agency.

In addition to those 175 families, the West Chatham Food Pantry prepares 210 backpacks full of food for qualifying students at Virginia Cross Elementary School, Siler City Elementary School, and Chatham Charter School.

The Stamp Out Hunger program “helps tremendously,” said Diane Smith, chairman of the West Chatham Food Bank’s board of directors. “Last year, donations were close to 5,000 pounds, which was amazing.”

The timing of this year’s Stamp Out Hunger program is good, too, Smith said.

“We are struggling a little right now,” she said, noting that two “significant” grants on which the agency has depended didn’t come through this year.

“So anything is a huge help,” Smith said.

Other food drives are held throughout the year — the Siler City Lions Club recently completed a drive that netted 1,000 pounds of food for the pantry; and Jordan-Matthews High School also conducted a successful drive recently — and all are helpful, Smith said. But food doesn’t stay on their shelves long — “It goes pretty fast,” said Smith — and quantities must be constantly replenished to meet continuing needs.

Cheryl Hilliard is one of 11 rural carriers working out of the Siler City Post Office. A 24-year veteran, Hilliard said she’s the “talker of the bunch,” frequently stopping to chat with customers as she delivers the mail. Getting to know folks, she’s seen, even on the stops along her route, the local need for food assistance.

Helping the post office effort, she said, is easy.

Customers only have to place their donated items in a bag at their mailbox and, she said, it helps the carriers if customers raise the flag on their box to let carriers know there’s an outgoing package.

Hilliard said she and her co-workers may have to make multiple trips back to the post office may 11, but it’s no hassle.

“We don’t mind doing that, at all,” she said.

Her colleague, Mylynda Maher, is the Siler City Post Office’s union representative, responsible for overseeing the Stamp Out Program. She orders the blue bags and post cards carriers will distribute soon.

“It’s a busy day,” she said of the annual drive, “but it’s not bad when you consider it’s for a good cause.”

And while letter carriers face daily pitfalls — barking/biting dogs, insects and inclement weather are some of the more common work-related hazards — the job also comes with rewards, Maher said, including customers who offer cold bottles of water on hot days, Christmas greetings during the holidays. Helping handle the outpouring of contributions for Stamp Out Hunger is another reward, she said.

“The bottom line is, it’s a really good thing for the community to help out the less fortunate,” Maher said.

Response from customers to the nationwide program is always good. Two years ago, reporting on the 25th edition of Stamp Out Hunger, the National Association of Letter Carriers provided critically needed goods to local food distribution centers in every state, with 71 million pounds of food collected in more than 10,000 cities and towns in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands. This figure boosted the quarter-century total to more than 1.5 billion pounds.

Randall Rigsbee can be reached at rigsbee@chathamnr.com.

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