Postal workers lead way to replenish food banks

The easiest way to be a big help is coming up Saturday. While delivering mail, letter carriers here and across the country will pick up donations of nonperishable food during the Stamp Out Hunger food drive.

They are the visible heroes of the effort, which brings in about half of all goods Snohomish County food banks receive in a year. The massive food drive, marking its 21st anniversary Saturday, also relies on volunteers from labor groups, businesses and other organizations.

“It’s really a community effort,” said Sara Haner, communications and events manager for United Way of Snohomish County. Organized by the National Association of Letter Carriers, the food drive here is a partnership between the Snohomish County Labor Council, Volunteers of America Western Washington and the local United Way.

Those groups enlist many other helpers. “Last year, the Boy Scouts came out, and United Way’s Youth United,” Haner said. “The Salvation Army has people come out, and other unions and local businesses, too.”

The food drive comes at a time of real need, said Leann Geiger, director of food bank services for Volunteers of America Western Washington. “We see tons of donations over the holidays, but after that things slow down,” Geiger said. She lists canned meats, peanut butter and other protein-rich foods among items food banks critically need.

Even as the economy has improved for some, hunger is a reality in Washington. In Everett alone, members of more than 3,000 households visit the VOA food bank each month.

According to data released last year by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the number of hungry families in Washington jumped from 88,000 to 163,000 between the start of the recession in 2008 and the end of 2011.

Statistics don’t tell the story of hunger as well as a commentary published April 27 on The Herald’s Opinion page.

Written by Marysville Community Food Bank Director Dell Deierling, the article told of a program started at Marysville’s Liberty Elementary School.

The “Food for Thought” program, now in six Marysville schools, provides packaged food for children to take home on weekends so they won’t be hungry.

“The needs are great,” Deierling wrote. Saturday’s food drive is a way to meet those needs, filling cupboards all over the county.

Food drive help comes in large and small ways, said Ann Seabott, the local United Way’s labor donor relations and community liaison manager.

Safeway is donating free doughnuts for mail carriers Saturday, Seabott said. Trade Printery, a commercial printing company in Seattle, printed bags being provided to mail customers for food donations.

And this year, Hogland Transfer Company, Inc., has a new role. The Everett trucking company won’t just haul food, it will store it.

That arrangement is needed because Volunteers of America Western Washington’s food bank in Everett is full, Geiger said. It’s not because the food supply is greater than in years past. Geiger said VOA no longer owns a storage facility on Everett’s Lombard Avenue. “We sold it,” she said.

The agency runs food banks in Everett, Sultan and north Seattle, and oversees other Snohomish County food banks through a coalition.

Hogland Transfer Company will keep the food donated Saturday at its Everett warehouse, and distribute it back to VOA each week, Geiger said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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