U.S. Postal Service workers nationwide will be making an extra special delivery this weekend.

On May 11, in thousands of cities across all 50 states, letter carriers will be collecting food donations from neighborhoods so they can be distributed to local food banks for the 32nd annual Stamp Out Hunger food drive.

The largest single-day food drive in the country, the event has donated a total of 1.8 billion pounds of food since 1993, when it began.

“We take a lot of pride in serving our communities,” said Brian Renfroe, in an interview on Wednesday. He is president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, a union representing 295,000 active and retired city letter carriers that coordinates the program.

“No one knows our communities better than our letter carriers,” he added. “While [they] get to experience the joy of watching families grow, [they] also see the difficulty in our communities, and one of the things that’s unfortunately still very prevalent across this country is food insecurity.”

Every single county in America has residents who experience food insecurity, according to Feeding America, a nonprofit network of food banks. Food prices were already rising during the pandemic, but they spiked in 2022 to a high not seen since 1979 due to the conflict in Ukraine, an avian flu strain and other inflationary pressures on the economy. In 2023, the cost of food increased again, but more moderately. And now, food prices are expected to stabilize and decelerate for the rest of 2024, according to the Department of Agriculture.

Still, about one in eight U.S. residents face food insecurity, meaning they lack consistent access to enough safe and nutritious food for normal growth and development, according to the United Nations’ definition. Working-age veterans, which make up three-quarters of the total veteran population, experience food insecurity at higher levels than the general public. And one in five children struggle to get nutritious meals consistently.

Hunger also heightens during springtime, when food pantries’ stores are depleted after the winter holidays and school lunch programs pause for the summer.

“Many times people come to the check stands and have to put things back because they don’t have enough money,” said Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, at the kick-off event on May 8. “At a time when so many issues seem to grab the attention of the public, there is not enough attention that’s being paid to food insecurity in this country, and we need to do something about it.”

That’s why the second Saturday of May has become known as collection day for NALC’s Stamp Out Hunger program.

Prior to the pandemic, Renfroe said the program would bring in nearly 70 million pounds of food in one day. In 2020 and 2021, the food drive was canceled so as not to endanger the lives of volunteers who sort the food. While the program resumed in recent years, the rebound has not been as strong. Renfroe said intake has been about half of what it used to be.

“People still need help,” he said.

That’s also why outreach has been happening for weeks leading up to collection day.

Crystal Smith, who has been leading community service efforts for NALC, told Federal Times that bilingual postcards were mailed using a special G10 permit.

“That allows us to mail all those postcards without a fee,” she said, meaning local post offices won’t be charged for disseminating postcards or posters for public awareness.

How it works

Leading up to the event, residents may find a flier or a plastic bag in their mailbox delivered on behalf of the program. Local Postal branches are in charge of ordering and distributing special collection bags for donations, but residents can also use bags they already have if they didn’t receive any.

Donations of nonperishable items may also be dropped off at local post offices.

Then, on Saturday, as part of their normal mail delivery duties, letter carriers collect bags they see next to mailboxes, and they’ll bring them back to postal offices for eventual sorting and delivery to food banks.

Food donated in a community stays in that community, NALC officials said on Wednesday.

“No matter the weather conditions, they will be there to get that food on that Saturday,” said Smith.

Some of the postcards and paper bags were also donated to the program from outside groups, which this year include the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association, Vericast, United Way Worldwide, the AFL-CIO, Valpak, Kellanova and CVS Health.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union announced at the kickoff event it was donating $250,000 to the effort, and CVS also pledged a $30,000 donation.

Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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