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Letter carriers help to stamp out hunger

Following their tradition of community service, the National Association of Letter Carriers staged a blitz May 10 to combat hunger in America.Stamp Out Hunger – an annual food drive in its sixteenth year – is the largest one-day food collection in the nation. Letter carriers leave grocery-sized plastic bags in mailboxes a few days before the drive. To donate, residents fill the bags and leave them by their mailbox on collection day, which is traditionally the second Saturday in May.”We give our carriers a lot of leeway on collection day,” said Ron Perry, customer relations coordinator of the Colorado Springs General Mail Facility. As carriers deliver the mail, enough space usually opens up on the truck to accommodate the food donations. But sometimes the truck gets too full, and a carrier needs to return to the post office to unload before continuing on the route, Perry said.Rural letter carriers also collected food May 10. Those with community post boxes were encouraged to leave their food at the box site. “Carriers don’t make rounds through the neighborhoods, they only stop at the boxes,” Perry said.The food drive comes at a critical time of year. Not only do food donations wane after the holidays, but school breakfast and lunch programs are suspended for the summer. Stamp Out Hunger restocks shelves of the community food banks to prepare for the increased demand.”This drive really gets us through the summer months,” said Suzanne Lee, spokeswoman for Colorado Springs-based Care and Share Food Bank. Last year, Stamp Out Hunger provided 95,000 lbs. of food to Care and Share or roughly 10 percent of their annual food distribution.This year, the donations are especially needed after Congress postponed a $300 billion farm bill that funds agricultural subsidies and nutrition programs. Without the bill, Care and Share has purchased more food to bridge the gap, said Nicholas Saccaro, chief executive officer of Care and Share. These purchases have already put Care and Share $110,000 over budget for the fiscal year ending June 30.The face of southern Colorado’s hunger issues is changing as people aren’t able to stretch their dollars at the grocery store. Working families, those that typically have not sought food assistance in the past, are turning to food banks, Saccaro said.Care and Share also reports that 41 percent of people receiving food assistance are working families. Fifty-seven percent of their clients report having to make tough decisions between buying food and paying for utilities, and 40 percent choose between food and medical care.Care and Share estimates it will serve 100,000 clients by the end of June. That number is expected to rise over the next few years to 160,000 per year by 2012.The food collected from Stamp Out Hunger makes an immediate impact. The carriers unload their trucks at the postal branch and deliver to Care and Share the same day, Lee said. Food pantries in the outlying areas such as Mountain Springs Helping Hands in Falcon will receive the food directly.”We are seeing a lot of new families,” said Jean Woolsey, director of Mountain Springs Helping Hands. The food pantry currently serves 500 families in the area and the need is still growing. “Anything we can get without purchasing it is a huge help,” Woolsey said.Lee agreed, “I can’t emphasize enough that we really appreciate the letter carriers.”

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