The National Association of Letter Carriers’ Food Drive, which is critical for local pantries, will take place May 14 after a two-year hiatus.
Steve Clem, the Interfaith food distribution manager, Tim Legge, U.S.P.S. retired and Karla Greenway, the CEO of Interfaith Emergency Services, left to right, look over a nearly empty food container box in the Interfaith Reuben Brawner Center Warehouse Food Pantry, as they talk about the upcoming Letter Carrier Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive at Interfaith Emergency Services in Ocala on April 27. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2022.
Looking over empty food bins at the Interfaith Emergency Services (IES) warehouse, Tim Legge, who is retired from the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), said he was helping organize this year’s National Association of Letter Carriers’ Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive because, “It’s tradition. I’ve been involved since it started. This is the 30th annual. It’s hard to not do it.”
Karla Grimsley-Greenway, executive director of IES, chimed in to say, “He’s just a champion who is still coming back and doing this, which is amazing.”
The national food drive, which did not take place in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic, provides critical supplies for local food pantries, including IES. Legge said that about four weeks ago, with “COVID restrictions coming down, the national union put out the word that any USPS branch that wanted to participate this year was free to proceed.”
“So, right away, we got involved here in Ocala,” he said.
Officials at the downtown Ocala, Paddock Park and Maricamp Road post office branches immediately jumped onboard.
“And it will pretty much be all of Marion County,” Grimsley-Greenway noted.
The drive will take place Saturday, May 14. USPS customers can put nonperishable food items in, near or on their mailbox, or in drop boxes at some branch locations. Some communities, such as On Top of the World, will have donation bins placed near communal mailbox sites, Grimsley-Greenway noted.
All of the food collected locally will help families in Marion County. IES partners with a number of other local organizations to make the food available across the county.
Steve Clem, food distribution manager for IES, said some of the partner agencies are “the Salvation Army, His Compassion, Help Agency of the Forest, Gateway of Hope and Dunnellon Outreach.” Clem noted that in 2019, for example, the drive collected 127,838 pounds of food and 32,809 pounds of that went to partner agencies.
IES, which was formed in 1983, helps approximately 30,000 people annually. Clients range from those who may be experiencing homelessness, to senior citizens and veterans, and people with disabilities or who are just struggling to make ends meet. Clients are referred by word of mouth and entities such as houses of worship and public services agencies. IES provides basic needs such as food, clothing, shelter, medications and hygiene items.
The Stamp Out Hunger drive, especially, helps IES and other local food pantries get through the summer months.
“For many years, as part of the national food drive, our community ranked number one for food collected for this size community. We were champions because of our postal workers. They were amazing. And so, we’re hoping to get back to that level because, before COVID, this is what sustained Interfaith and some of our partner pantries through the summer. We kind of have this momentum here where, the holidays, November, December, we have all these food drives and that carries us through the spring and then we get like this – sweeping her arm over empty food bins – and this food drive would carry us through the summer,” Grimsley-Greenway said.
“Without it, it was a little scary, to not have this the last couple of years. We really had to call on more neighborhoods, we had to order a lot more food. The year of the pandemic, we had to order over $100,000 of food. Thank God for COVID CARES (The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act) money because that helped offset it. This makes up for that. This keeps us from having to buy $100,000 worth of food. So it is that significant. I know a lot of people think, well I only have a couple of cans – it adds up. It’s amazing how it adds up. And it’s not a big effort. Go to your pantry and clean it out and the things you don’t need, toss our way because somebody else needs it,” she added.
The most needed items are things such as “peanut butter, cereal, canned fruits and vegetables, macaroni and cheese, soup, Hamburger Helper, anything to make a meal out of,” Clem said.
On the day of the drive, volunteers recruited by IES will fan out in vehicles around the county to help collect donations, along with the letter carriers. When postal vehicles arrive at the IES warehouse, they are “number one,” said Clem. “We have to get them unloaded and out of here because most of them have to go back and pick up more mail—and food.”
Some of the donations, such those coming through the Paddock Park and Maricamp branches, will be loaded onto semi tractor-trailer rigs loaned to the cause.
“Swift Transportation has supported us for a few years by loaning us tractors and trailers, and we couldn’t do it without them,” Legge said. “When the carriers come back in to Paddock and Maricamp, all that food will be loaded from their little vehicles onto the dock. From there it will go into large containers that will be loaded on the 18-wheeler. Then they come here, to the warehouse.”
At the warehouse, volunteers will work all day and into the night to sort the donations into containers. Many of the workers come from the partner agencies. Grimsley-Greenway noted that this year a new group would be pitching in to help—youngsters involved with the Ocala Marion County Fire Rescue Mentorship Program.
Clem and Grimsley-Greenway both said they have seen an increase in the numbers of people seeking help.
“I’ve seen an increase. We had a family of 10 recently. And our families of fours, fives, sixes and sevens are up too,” Clem said.
“It’s getting tough. Even just gas prices will force a lot of families to have come here for groceries, plus the fact that groceries cost so much more. Times are getting tough,” Grimsley-Greenway added.
She reiterated again that even small donations can make a big difference, such as a few canned items, a jar of peanut butter and a box of cereal.
“Can you imagine if everybody in the county did that, what a difference it would make!” Legge said hopefully.
To learn more, go to Fb.com/STAMPOUTHUNGEROCALAFL