On May 14 Forest Park’s letter carriers won’t just be dropping off the mail, they will also be looking to the community to pick up canned and dry goods for the community’s food pantry, which runs short of food this time of year.
The drive is the 10th annual Letter Carrier’s Food Drive and will benefit Forest Park Food Pantry. It is part of a nation-wide effort by the National Association of Letter Carriers Union.
The union has been doing food drives throughout the country for almost 20 years and all food collected stays in the communities they are collected.
“What we do is we send a little card out to everybody announcing the drive,” said Mike Elliott, who has coordinated the event in Forest Park for the last 10 years. “What people do is buy non-perishable items, leave them on their mailbox and then the mailmen pick them up as we go by.”
Elliott has been a carrier since 1978 and said he has done all the routes in town at one point or another.
There are 15 routes total and 17 carriers who, on average, collect about 1,000 pounds of food for the pantry in Forest Park each year.
“That is not bad for a town this size, and just on one day”on Saturday,” Elliott said.
But they are not alone, as for the past few years, the letter carriers have received some junior help.
“For the last couple of years we have been having local Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts helping out,” Elliott said. “We drop it off at the community center and they take it and put it on the shelves.”
The drive is very important to the center as people tend not to remember the pantry in the spring, said Beverly Thompson, community center director.
“[The carriers] are a very good source for our donations for our food pantry,” she said. “People tend to donate more around the holiday season rather than at other times of the year. Actually a lot of our food is gone. We have added more people to our list [of people we support]. A lot more than usual, and our supply has been down.”
The food pantry started approximately 20 years ago at the library, but quickly ran out of space and moved to the community center. It is run by the center for the Community Education Council and is funded by private donations.
Currently, the pantry is running at approximately three fourths capacity and has between 75 and 100 clients.
“When people are in need of food they come in to the center and I interview them to see if they are eligible,” Thompson said.
Eligible clients are determined by income and help is generally doled out on a temporary basis.
“Each situation is unique,” Thompson said. “A lot of the people have family in town and usually the adult will come in and I ask the size of the family.”
Food pickups are once a month.
Elliott and Thompson recommend residents purchase canned goods, pasta, soups, and cereal and stay away from frozen foods and foods with shelf-lives.
“The best thing for people to give that we fill our boxes with are canned soups, canned fruit and pastas and sauces,” Thompson said.
“Food pantries don’t have anywhere to store frozen foods,” Elliott added.
The hope is that this year, when residents begin to receive post cards that they don’t forget the letter carrier food drive.
“The people are donating the food, we are just the go-between,” Elliott said. “We pick it up and drop it off.”
Thompson, however, gives credit where it is due, saying the carriers do a great job at replenishing the pantry.
“They really do a great job,” she said. “Once we have the post office drive we will be running at capacity.”