The U.S. Postal Service’s annual Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive arrives just when food pantries need more food donations.
“Donations dwindle this time of year,” said Kathy Jenner, the volunteer operations manager at the Waupaca Area Food Pantry.
The school year comes to an end, which means school-organized food drives for the pantry also come to a halt.
People also begin to take vacations, resulting in a decrease in donations, she said.
However, the number of people visiting the pantry does not drop.
“Our summer demand usually goes up,” Jenner said.
Among the reasons why that occurs is because families whose children received free or reduced breakfast and lunch during the school year must now cover the cost of those meals, she said.
The Waupaca Area Food Pantry is already seeing more people in need of food.
“For us, this year, in the first quarter, we had a 20 percent increase in the number of families,” Jenner said.
She attributes that increase to a number of factors, including last year’s decrease in Food Stamp benefits, long-term unemployment benefits going away, higher fuel costs and now rising food prices.
Jenner said rising food prices mean clients cannot afford to buy as much food as they previously could.
For the food pantry, it means monetary donations to buy food items the pantry is low on do not go as far as they did in the past.
The pantry is preparing for one of its largest food drives of the year – the postal service’s Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive.
This year’s food drive will be held on Saturday, May 10.
Howard Pope, a letter carrier for Waupaca’s Post Office, has been organizing this year’s local drive.
Up until this year, he coordinated the local effort with Cindy Whitman, who started the project here, he said.
Whitman retired last year, and that means Pope now has more responsibilities.
Among them was seeking local sponsors to pay for the bags letter carriers leave at homes before the day of the food drive.
“I went around in March to solicit local businesses to help out with the efforts,” said Pope.
In the past, national sponsors covered the cost of the bags.
This year, he needed to raise more than $800 to cover the cost of producing and shipping the approximately 8,000 bags needed for Waupaca’s food drive.
“But he actually collected more than that,” Jenner said.
That is because some businesses asked how else they could help out after being asked for sponsorships.
When Pope told them the pantry could use some help stocking its shelves now, some businesses gave monetary donations for the pantry on top of what they donated toward the cost of the bags.
In addition, Ruby’s Pantry will provide a truck and driver on the day of the food drive. Paul’s Concrete Construction will lend a scale at no cost, and WDUX will feature the food drive during its Thursday, May 8, breakfast show, Pope said.
“Everyone is helping in some fashion to make the drive successful,” Jenner said.
Jenner said the food pantry receives more food donations when bags are supplied ahead of time for a food drive.
“If you don’t have the bags, there’s not a visual reminder,” she said.
Last year, Waupaca’s Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive collected 7,064 pounds of food. “Last year was one of the best food drives,” Jenner said.
Since 1993, the Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive has been held on the second weekend in May.
Pope said a national food drive program was piloted in October of 1991.
“It was pretty successful, but a lot of pantries said there was more of a need in May. That is why it changed,” he said.
Hunger in America
Pope said one in six Americans is food insecure, which means living at risk of hunger and not knowing where the next meal will come from, and one in five children is living in a food insecure household.
About 4.8 million senior citizens face choices about whether to pay rent, utilities or to have enough nutritious food, he said.
One in seven Americans lives at or below the federal poverty level, Pope said.
“We expect this year to be a record year (for number of clients). The economy is still stagnant here,” Jenner said. “I think those other factors that came together are the perfect storm to hit people hard this year.”
She said the percentage of children they are seeing has stayed relatively the same. There has been a 27 percent increase in the number of adults they are seeing at the pantry.
“It seems like the first place people scrimp is on food,” Jenner said.
The week of May 5, letter carriers will distribute blue plastic bags on their routes.
Pope chose blue for the color of the bags, because that is the color of their uniforms.
On the day of the food drive, people should place the bag filled with non-perishable food items on their porch or under their mailbox by 8 a.m., he said.
Jenner reminds people to not donate items in glass containers and to also check expiration dates on food products before donating them to the food pantry.
“People can personally bring in their donations to the post office. We will have a bin in the lobby for that,” Pope said.
Jenner said those who want to drop off food donations for this food drive should do so at the post office and not at the pantry itself, so that the post office is able to give an accurate account of how many pounds of food are collected.
Post cards and posters about the food drive have also been distributed.
“This drive is one of the easiest ways to get involved in the community,” Pope said.
He said, “Carriers, who go out to neighborhoods in every town six days a week, have always been involved when something needs to be done, whether it’s collecting funds for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, watching over the elderly through the Carrier Alert Program, delivering needed antibiotics, assisting victims of natural disasters or rescuing victims of fires, crimes or other mishaps. We are the eyes and ears of every neighborhood and often lifesavers. We know the demand for those in need.”
Jenner appreciates the support of the community.
“It gets us over the hump of the summer months. It also helps with the variety of foods to provide the clients,” she said. “We’re grateful for anything the community gives us.”