Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night keeps hunger away from families who are struggling to put food on the table. The nation’s mail carriers get that, and they’ll be looking for backup again when their yearly food drive takes place next month.
The National Association of Letter Carriers’ annual Stamp Out Hunger, the largest single-day food collection in the U.S., is set for May 10. Over the past two decades, carriers have distributed to community food banks, pantries and shelters more than a billion pounds of food set out by mailboxes and dropped off at post offices.
Maria Espinosa and Lyphus Stevenson plan to boost the local numbers substantially, though they recognize it’s an ambitious objective. This year’s goal of 55,000 pounds exceeds the Naperville carriers’ record year by 10 percent.
“Naturally, I think, people want to help,” said Espinosa, a 23-year mail carrier who is having her first turn chairing the Naperville drive.
It is a compelling reality, Espinosa said, that many children and seniors are among the recipients of the donated food, which is distributed by the Loaves & Fishes Community Pantry. She is adamant that no one should be forced to choose between feeding their families and meeting other household expenses, such as medication or utilities.
Espinosa and other postal workers are making a push to publicize the drive more aggressively than has been done in the past, arranging for signs to go up around the city as the collection day draws closer. There also will be signs displayed on the visors of mail trucks making their rounds in the city, as another reminder to set out donations on May 10. Residents again will receive postcards notifying them of the campaign as well. The additional marketing efforts will bolster that yearly heads-up.
“I think the cards just kind of get lost in the mail sometimes,” Espinosa said.
Stevenson, president of the local NALC unit, noted that the 54,000 customized paper bags to be distributed to Naperville households during the week of May 5, courtesy of an anonymous benefactor, will also encourage more generous donations. The local letter carriers had help from the bags once several years ago, when Chicago postal workers had a surplus they donated to Naperville’s effort. Jody Bender, the director of community engagement for Loaves & Fishes, said the community response was particularly robust that year.
If the effect is repeated, May 10 will be a long day.
“We really have to be ready, because it’s going to be almost full coverage” of the city’s 65,000 addresses, Espinosa said. “We’re going to be really tired that night.”
The coordinators are mindful that there are still plenty of mouths to feed. A mayoral proclamation issued this week commemorating the upcoming food drive noted that 46 million Americans face hunger daily, and many have seen their benefits reduced in recent months. That’s expected to continue with the $8.6 billion in food stamp cuts over the next 10 years that came with passage of the 2014 federal farm bill.
The numbers could grow still larger. Republican U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s 2015 federal budget proposal, which passed the House last week, calls for another $125 billion in cuts to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, which would cut off food stamps provided to nearly 3.8 million low-income Americans later this year, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The home pick-up campaign has done considerable good through the years for Loaves & Fishes, the city’s largest hunger relief agency, which distributes about 60,000 pounds of food to Naperville area families each week.
“In peak years, Stamp Out Hunger has provided more than 50,000 pounds, close to a week’s worth of groceries,” Bender said in an email. “The last few years have been about half that figure (almost 25,000 pounds last year and 28,000 in 2012), so Stamp Out Hunger is still one of our largest drives both for the amount of food it provides as well as the awareness it raises.”
While this year’s goal looks achievable to the organizers, Postmaster Kenneth Kronberg has his sights set even higher.
“I think with Maria and Lyphus there, they’re going to get 100,000,” he said. “I guarantee they will.”
Loaves & Fishes’ wish list currently shows greatest need for canned protein (black and pinto beans, tuna, chili) and carbohydrate-rich foods (cereal, pasta, rice, crackers, oatmeal). More information is at www.loaves-fishes.org or www.nalc.org/commun/foodrive/index.html.