By Adam Smith
That extra can of corn or green beans collecting dust in your pantry could help feed a hungry family this weekend.
On Saturday, the National Association of Letter Carriers and the Campbell Soup Company will host the Stamp Out Hunger food drive. Now in its 20th year, the annual initiative has grown from a regional to a national effort that provides assistance to the millions of Americans struggling to put food on the table.
All food collected in Limestone County will stay in the county to help less fortunate individuals and families.
To participate, residents simply need to leave a bag of non-perishable food items by their mailbox. Acceptable items include pasta, rice, canned soup, canned meats and fish, canned fruits, vegetables and juices and boxed goods such as cereal.
Laura Aldridge, director of Athens-Limestone Emergency Food and Shelter, said the drive collected 57,000 items for the food bank last year. In a normal year, she said, the drive nets 16,000 to 18,000 items.
She said there was so much food collected, most of it had to be stored at a Methodist church in Tanner.
“They kindly let us keep it there because it was from the floor to the ceiling,” Aldridge said. “It took two 24-foot U-Hauls to get it all here.”
Aldridge said ALEFS would be open on Saturday if residents would rather bring in their food donations as opposed to leaving them next to the mailbox. The food bank is located at 20086 Swanner Blvd. in Tanner.
Overall, Americans donated 70.2 million pounds of food in 2011, making it the eighth-straight year more than 70 million pounds had been collected.
Campbell Soup Company and its partners are producing postcards and shopping bags
that will be delivered to more than 90 million homes across the country as a reminder to
participate in the drive. Campbell will also donate one million pounds of food to Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization.
“Campbell is committed to the success of the Stamp Out Hunger food drive, and we
encourage everyone to participate,” said Denise Morrison, Campbell’s president and CEO. “It’s unfortunate that millions of Americans, especially children, continue to go hungry in a country as bountiful as ours. With the help and generosity of those who are able, we can provide crucial support for people in need.”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s annual study measuring food security in the United States, the number of Americans living in food insecure homes was nearly 49 million in 2011, and one in five of these people was a child (16 million).
A recent survey conducted by Feeding America, the nation’s leading domestic hunger-relief organization, found that nearly half (46 percent) of households served reported having to choose between paying a utility bill or purchasing food.
Aldridge said ALEFS has now served 930 families this year, about 230 more than normal this time of year.
“We’re very grateful to the postal service for what they do,” she said. “Last year, I spent half the day running back and forth from one mail carrier to another. It never ceases to amaze me how great the people of Limestone County are.”
Denise Warren, a supervisor at the United States Postal Service in Athens, said the food drive is something she believes is a worthy cause because as a child, her family used food banks.
“I was an underprivileged child growing up, though my parents worked and my mother worked two jobs,” she said. “It was hard to feed us during the summer months and we had to rely on places for help.”
She said most of the letter carriers also view Stamp Out Hunger as a worthy cause, though she added it does increase their workload. The carriers participate voluntarily, however, and aren’t required to pick up the food items.
Warren said about 34 postal carriers would be working Saturday, with 12 of those inside the Athens city limits and 22 on rural routes. She asked that those who choose to leave food to place it inside the mailbox or right next to the box so the items are within reach for letter carriers.
Though many residents will receive brown paper bags for food items, she said plastic grocery bags with handles are easier to manage.
For more information call visit either http://www.helpstampouthunger.com or http://www.facebook.com/StampOutHunger. Follow the drive at http://www.twitter.com/StampOutHunger.