Postal food drive scheduled Saturday
By Walter Wright
Advertiser Staff Writer
Letter carrier Pat Gipson knows there are hungry families on Route 11 in Ma'ili, where she drives her half-ton postal vehicle every day.
"It's not like they are starving, not like they are going through garbage cans," says Gipson, "but you know there are some that always could use extra help, especially the large families.
That knowledge is part of the passion that makes the annual letter carriers' "Stamp Out Hunger" food drive the most successful single campaign to feed the hungry in Hawai'i, according to Brett Schlemmer of the Hawai'i Food Bank.
The one-day drive which takes place again Saturday produces about one-third of the canned goods distributed by the food bank in an entire year, Schlemmer said.
"I have heard so many accounts from so many letter carriers about what they see," Schlemmer said.
"A letter carrier in the Makiki area was saying, 'You know, this makes us feel so good, because some families I have on my run, I know the kids are hungry, so much that I give them part of my lunch, you know, an apple, just save it for them.'
"Of course," Schlemmer said, "credit has to go to the postal patrons, too. They are the ones that are coming up with the food and the letter carriers are the perfect vehicle for their donations."
That's the other reason for success, according to Rudy Salazar, a Hawai'i Kai mailman who is co-chairman of the Hawai'i drive for the sponsoring National Association of Letter Carriers, a postal workers union.
"Customers just have to leave their non-perishable food donations in a bag near their mailbox on Saturday before their letter carrier arrives," he said.
"There's no excuses," said Felice Broglio, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Postal Service, which supports the effort. "So raid the pantry."
It is the high-protein content that makes the Stamp Out Hunger donations so valuable to the food bank, Schlemmer said.
"If you want to give the biggest nutritional bang for your buck this coming Saturday, pile on the protein," Schlemmer said.
Canned tuna, some canned meats, and prepared meal dishes, like chili or soups, are especially welcome, he said, in addition to canned fruit and vegetables and other staples.
The challenge on Saturday is to move the tons of food given in Hawai'i, where letter carriers on 750 routes collected a record 276,000 pounds of food last year.
"It all needs to be removed from the post offices within a couple of hours, because they need that space for the Monday morning mail cycle," he said.
Trucks from the postal service, and from private companies, bring load after load to a Sand Island warehouse where 150 volunteers are standing by to unload, weigh, sort and "palletize" the goods.
That one-day haul compares with the 610,000 pounds of food collected in the food bank's entire spring campaign.
More is always welcome, because there is never enough, Schlemmer said. About 118,000 people, or about one out of every 10 Hawai'i residents, receive food assistance in any given week, Schlemmer said.
"That's from before Sept. 11, and the economic downturn after the terrorist attacks brought a lot of newcomers to the hunger scene in Hawai'i, people who didn't know food was available for them or how to get it," he said.
On an annual basis, a Health Department study says, the number of hungry in Hawai'i nears 200,000 individuals in any given year, "people who are at risk of being hungry or have to limit the amount of nutrition that they get because they can't afford it," Schlemmer said.
Out in Ma'ili, letter carrier Gipson said, the impressive number is not the families who may need help, but those who give it.
"I would say 45 percent of the homes on my route leave canned goods out," she said, "and they leave a lot."
Reach Walter Wright at email@example.com or 525-8054.