ELKHART — Elkhart County residents provided more than 84,000 pounds of food for local pantries on Saturday, and there’s likely more to come.
Approximately 350 volunteers worked alongside mail carriers and others in the National Association of Letter Carriers’ Stamp Out Hunger food drive Saturday, May 11.
This is the 19th year in Elkhart County for the event, which asks local people to set out bags of groceries by their mail box, where they are then collected and distributed to local food pantries.
Darren Bickel, vice president of community investment for United Way of Elkhart County, which organizes the local event, said that he estimates reaching 95,000 pounds through the next couple days, as people who forgot to set food out drop it off at post offices. The estimated total would be identical to the giving in 2012, he noted.
Though the formal Stamp Out Hunger event was Saturday, he pointed out how hundreds of volunteers at local pantries will work early next week to sort and organize all the donated food, along with people still bringing food to the post office.
Elkhart resident Erin Bontrager and her family have helped out with Stamp Out Hunger for five years now.
She arrived at the Elkhart Post Office a little after noon, driving a van filled with bags of food. She worked with one of her sons, who would jump out of the van and pick up the bags along the roads, while she drove from mail box to mail box. Bontrager’s husband, a daughter, another son and a friend followed behind in a car with more food.
“I had to call my husband because our van was totally full to the top,” she said.
Bontrager’s mother and another of her daughters were collecting food in a third vehicle.
The family has helped out with Stamp Out Hunger for five years now, after receiving some help from some local agencies.
Bontrager explained that during the recession, she had been the only one working at a job for a while and they had filled some of their family’s needs through some local agencies, including receiving some food from Church Community Services.
“We’ve been in that situation,” she said. Now that they’re back on their feet, they want to help others in difficult situations.
Fifteen high school students from River of Life Fellowship in Middlebury were on-hand at the Elkhart Post Office, unloading bags of food from arriving pick-ups, cars and vans in seconds.
“As a church, we want to get outside the four walls of our church and get out and impact our community,” said Josh Ercoli, River of Life’s youth pastor. It’s also a way to show support for the good work that these local agencies are doing, he added.
Kelly Laughlin has been a mail carrier for 23 years, so has been a part of Stamp Out Hunger since its start.
“It’s a little extra work,” she said, “but it’s well worth it, a way to give back to your community.”
The donated food was delivered to local agencies Saturday afternoon. Participating pantries include the Council on Aging, Christ’s Commissary, Church Community Services, Faith Mission, Salvation Army of Elkhart, Susanna’s Kitchen, Guidance Ministries, Salvation Army of Goshen, The Window in Goshen, the Bristol Food Pantry, the Middlebury Food Pantry, Family Christian Development Center, Open Door and the Nappanee Church of God.
Bickel said that people are still able to donate food by bringing bags to any Elkhart County post office. Containers will be at the post offices to collect food through Wednesday.