BLOOMINGTON — The annual letter carriers' food drive on Saturday has a benefit beyond collecting non-perishable food for our neighbors in need.
"For some people, it's the first time that they may think that a neighbor may be facing hunger ... and here is something I can do about it," said Pat Turner, outreach director with Center for Hope Food Pantry Network in Bloomington.
The 27th annual National Association of Letter Carriers' Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive is Saturday.
People are asked to leave grocery bags with donations of unopened, non-perishable food — canned or boxed soups, meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, pasta or rice — at their residential mailboxes on Saturday morning, said Nikki Wilson, a Bloomington-Normal letter carrier and a member of the food drive committee for letter carriers union Branch 522. Glass containers are not accepted.
Letter carriers will collect the bags and — with help from retired letter carriers and representatives of other labor unions — will load donated food onto trucks from Midwest Food Bank, Wilson said.
Representatives of Bloomington-Normal food pantries, including Center for Hope, will pick up food at the food bank beginning next week, Wilson said. Food collected in the area but outside Bloomington-Normal will go to the nearest food pantry.
"It is a timely food drive," Turner said. Food pantries have given away food donated during Christmas, she said. Meanwhile, demand on food pantries increases during summer because some students aren't getting school lunches and some parents aren't working during the summer, she said.
Wilson said, "I know this time of year, the food banks get low on food. This helps them to get stocked back up."
Wilson said, as a mail carrier, she sees needs in the community. Personally, she grew up in a household that needed to supplement food purchases by going to a Salvation Army food pantry from time to time.
"I love doing the food drive," Wilson said. "I like that we are able to help."
In addition to receiving postcard reminders in the mail, some postal customers are getting plastic grocery bags to fill with food, Wilson said.
Last year's food drive collected about 45,000 pounds of food in the area, including 37,000 pounds in Bloomington-Normal — a drop after setting a record high 102,000 pounds of food, including 80,000 pounds from Bloomington-Normal, in 2017.
"The goal is to beat last year," Wilson said.