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Local News

Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive returns May 14

Stamp Out Hunger
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De De Flounlacker was walking around the warehouse at Manna Food Pantries location on E Street in Pensacola, watching volunteers sort thousands of nonperishable food items into crates.

“We’ve got about seven weeks’ worth of food on our warehouse floor right now” Flounlacker, Manna's executive director, said. “But this food drive will really sustain us for a few months.”

That drive is the annual Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive run by the National Association of Letter Carriers. Since 1993, this annual drive has collected well over a billion pounds of food nationwide. But then COVID happened and the drive was suspended. Now, after two years, Stamp Out Hunger is set to resume Saturday, May 14.

“The food banks are just excited about us doing this again,” said Albert Friedman, president of the Florida State Association of Letter Carriers. He says his members have seen the need for food grow during the pandemic, both on city streets and rural roads. “I always call letter carriers the eyes and ears of every community. We’re out there every day.”

Kyle Schoolar, community engagement, and advocacy manager at Feeding The Gulf Coast, an organization that provides food for 24 counties from the Panhandle to southern Mississippi, said in some Gulf Coast communities saw food insecurity rates increase by over 40% at the height of the pandemic.

“Here on the Gulf Coast, we are just so service-industry and hospitality-driven that when tourists aren’t coming to visit and restaurants are having to close down and reduce hours. That puts so many of our population at risk,” he said.

Just how much food will be collected during this year’s drive remains to be seen, but over at Manna Food Pantries, they are looking back at the 2019 drive and making plans.

“Last time we did this food drive, this community donated about 70,000 pounds of food, and we’re hoping that it’ll be at least 70,000 pounds of food this year, if not even more,” Flounlacker said, adding she will find space in the warehouse to take in as much as they can.

“Listen we’ll make room (even) if we have to put it on the roof! We’ve got volunteers in here this morning and they are going to be picking up some banana boxes that food will go (into). And we’ll be making room here on the floor (of the warehouse).

"We will absolutely be able to take whatever comes in.”

The wild card in all this is the people in the community. Everyone is asked to leave a bag of nonperishable food items at their mailbox on the morning of May 14.

“Some people want to put a lot of food out in a box by their mailbox," Friedman, the letter carriers president, said. "Plastic bags have always been a good thing to go to in case it’s raining. Then the carrier will see it and pick it up whether it’s in the box or hanging from the box or on the ground by the box.”

And for those who live in apartments with mailboxes in a cluster?

"We tell them if they don’t feel safe putting (your food donations out) there, bring it to a post office, we’ll be more than happy to take it,” said Friedman. He said Florida letter carriers picked up 11 million pounds of food during the 2019 drive.

While collecting a lot of food is always a goal, there should be quality with quantity.

“Our food pantries are always looking for as nutritious as possible, shelf-stable food items,” said Schoolar from Feeding The Gulf Coast. “We really look for those shelf-stable food items that can be as healthy as they can be, but also easy to prepare.

"Here on the Gulf Coast, unfortunately, we do have a large homeless population who don’t have access to a kitchen. You also have senior citizens who are at greater risk of facing hunger as well. And so think about easy to prepare but as nutritious as possible. So anything shelf-stable, make sure that seal is good on it, make sure the expiration dates on it are within reason."

Homemade food, "super-expired" food or any in damaged package, can't be accepted, he pointed out.

“Canned, tuna, canned chicken, canned vegetables, canned fruit in 100% juice, oatmeal, whole grain cereals," Flounlacker added. She also cautioned against donating anything homemade, or items packed in glass bottle or jars.

The drive was given the green light earlier this year when the Post Office gave approval for volunteers to be on post office property to help with food collection, sorting, and distribution.

More information about the National Letter Carriers Association’s Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive can be found at nacl.org.

Information on Feeding the Gulf Coast can be found at feedingthegulfcoast.org.
Information on Manna Food Pantries can be found at mannahelps.org.