For local food pantries, the annual collection drive by mail carriers is a crucial one, and can singlehandedly restore depleted donation reserves.

Posted on May 10, 2012 at 1:00 a.m.

Hundreds of volunteers will be aiding letter carriers collect food throughout Elkhart, Goshen, Middlebury and Bristol during the annual Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive on Saturday.

This year marks the 20th anniversary since the event was created by the National Association of Letter Carriers. This is Elkhart’s 18th year participating.

In 2011, volunteers collected about 100,000 pounds of food items that were distributed throughout the community pantries. This year, Darren Bickel, vice president of community development at United Way of Elkhart County, expects to see pantries and kitchens around the area overflowing with donated items again.

“It makes an immediate impact on families,” he said. “While most drives take several weeks to collect food, on Saturday it’s a push that in 8 hours we’ll go from having nothing to having it all full with donations.”

Residents of Elkhart, Goshen, Middlebury and Bristol are encouraged to leave a bag of food items near their mailboxes Saturday by 8 a.m. for letter carriers to collect. The carriers will load trucks that will be driven by volunteers, called bag buddies, to United Way of Elkhart County. After all the food items are collected, they will be shipped to various kitchens and food pantries in the area.

Carriers will meet at 7:30 a.m. and head out to the streets at 8 a.m. The food drive will end at about 4 p.m. Bickel said there will be around 400 volunteers helping letter carriers and moving food donations at the dock. However, he said more volunteers are needed, and anyone interested in participating can call him at 574-295-1650, ext. 210, or email bickeld@unitedwayec.org by noon Friday.

Mike Cataldo, food drive coordinator for the Elkhart, Goshen, Middlebury and Bristol branches of the U.S. Postal Office Service, said he believes one of the things that make the drive a success is the interest of the community in helping a neighbor.

“All the generosity in the community is amazing, they are thinking about their neighbor or possibly even someone they don’t know,” he said. “It just speaks volumes of how everybody cares in the community; it’s an awesome thing to see.”

Helping those in need also becomes symbolic for the letter carriers, Cataldo said.

“We go out everyday and deliver to every household in the community,” he said. “Sometimes we get really good friends with them and we see their needs, so it’s very personal that we can go out on this food drive on Saturday and know we are helping people in the community who we know.”

Government aid

This is the fourth year government entities in Goshen, Elkhart City and Elkhart County are donating food items for the food drive. Patty Morgan, human resources manager for the City of Goshen, said although many employees have chosen to give money instead of food, the level of participation is high.

“We do see a good response, here each year a different department will take the challenge but at the end everyone rallies and shows their support,” she said.

All three government entities will present their donations 2 p.m. Friday on the dock behind the Elkhart City Post Office.

Keeping shelves full

Food pantries and kitchens are hoping to see some relief with donations coming over the weekend from the Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive. Angie Wogoman, director of daily operations at Guidance Ministries in Elkhart said the kitchen have been low on food in the last few days.

“The donations give us a comfortable leeway of us not having to ask for a few weeks,” she said. “Our needs always vary, because we don’t receive any aid from the government.”

Mike Perez, development director for Faith Mission, said the food brought through donations will keep their shelves full for at least a couple months. For Faith Mission, the food drive on Saturday is one of the most important in the year.

Other service agencies such as the Bristol Community Food Pantry, offer, besides food, hygiene products. Brenda Spence, director of the Bristol Community Food Pantry, said items like shampoo and soap are welcome as donations as well.

For Cataldo, helping food pantries and kitchens is aiding community members with basic needs, he said.

“We are focused on curbing hunger. It’s such a basic need for all the people and food pantries and kitchens provide this basic service,” he said. “They prepare the meals, they prepare bags for people, they do so much more than feed the people, they feed them spiritually and rehabilitate their lives.”

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