Letter carriers’ food drive nets 1.4 million pounds in Hillsborough
EAST TAMPA - The food came from doorsteps and mailboxes from businesses and homes in neighborhoods around Hillsborough County. Nearly 1.5 million pounds was placed in the backs of trucks by U.S. Postal Service letter carriers on their normal routes and driven to a post office. It eventually arrived in large crates inside semi-trailers at a donated Harney Road warehouse. It’s final destination: Hillsborough County’s neediest residents.The 21st-annual National Association of Letter Carriers’ “Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive” took place Saturday in towns and cities across the United States. Stamp Out Hunger is the nation’s largest single-day food drive, collecting more than 70 million pounds of food for food banks and food shelves across the United States. This year, Hillsborough County postal customers donated an estimated 1.4 million pounds of food for Tampa Bay Harvest, an all-volunteer food recovery and gleaning organization operating in west central Florida. Throughout the day at the Harney Road warehouse, trucks of all sizes dropped off donated food that was collected from 12 postal routes around the county. On their rounds, letter carriers picked up donations and took them to satellite locations, where they were put on trucks for delivery. Standing in the loading dock of the former Kash n’ Karry warehouses, Alan Peacock, Tampa Letter Carrier Association president, said about 1,000 city and rural postal carriers participated in the pick-up. He said donation bags were left at homes earlier this month and volunteers from the Emergency Care Help Organization, which provides necessities to families and individuals in distressed situations, spoke to postal workers to get them on board and excited about Stamp Out Hunger. In 2012, about 1.2 million pounds of food was collected. “It’s been very well-supported. I think there was a lot more enthusiasm this year,” Peacock said. “The talks made them (postal employees) aware that what you’re doing is going back into your communities.” About 15 volunteers manned the warehouse from 9 a.m. to midnight, including forklift drivers from Versatile Packagers, who also used the warehouse space and helped load each pallet holding 2,500 pounds of food from the truck into the stock area. Besides postal trucks, Uncle Bob’s Storage donated three, 14-foot trucks to carry goods. As Will Carey, Tampa Bay Harvest executive director, kept tabs on a delivery truck coming in from Carrollwood, he said the Tampa-Clearwater-St. Petersburg area is always in the top ten for donations in the U.S. and Tampa has been number one for two years straight. He said Stamp Out Hunger provides a third of the food and toiletries for Tampa Bay Harvest each year and in 2012, over 3 million pounds of goods were moved from the organization. “The letter carriers, it amazes me their dedication to this,” Carey said. “I mean, they’re already picking up mail and the six to seven pounds of donations, that’s a whole lot of extra labor. Along with the donors, they’re giving back in a big way. It’s hot, they’re not required to do this but they volunteer their time to make things better.” In the United States there are about 50 million people who need food assistance, including 17 million children and 9 million senior citizens, according to government statistics.