Letter carriers still driven to stamp out hunger

Saturday’s forecast is sunny, but there are clouds of uncertainty for postal workers about to do a good deed on the job.

Mail carriers delivered yellow plastic bags to households this week. Saturday is the 20th annual National Association of Letter Carriers Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive. People in Snohomish County and around the country are asked to leave nonperishable food next to mailboxes for pickup.

“The whole thing is to bring attention to the problem of people going without food,” said Ernie Swanson, a U.S. Postal Service spokesman.

On their routes, mail carriers come face-to-face with need.

“So many people are depending on this food,” said Bob James, a mailman in Mountlake Terrace and president of the National Association of Letter Carriers in Snohomish County. “People are upside-down on mortgages, people are being foreclosed upon. You can tell when somebody is having financial difficulties,” said James, who has been involved in the food drive since its start.

Tradition holds that mail is delivered no matter what, in keeping with the famous inscription on a New York City post office: “Neither snow nor rain nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

Yet the agency is operating with staggering financial losses and the specter of postal facility closures.

Swanson, who talked about the food drive Thursday, spoke earlier this week with Herald reporter Debra Smith. Her “Inside Everett” blog said Wednesday that Everett’s Hardeson Road mail processing facility is not among hundreds of rural area post offices the U.S. Postal Service announced this week it wants to keep open.

Swanson said that as far as he knows, closure of the Everett facility — which would mean the loss of about 100 jobs and next-day delivery in our area — is still part of plans to streamline the agency. The Associated Press reported Wednesday that the Postal Service “will announce new changes next week involving its proposal to close up to 252 mail processing centers.” The Senate recently passed a bill that would halt immediate closure of the 252 mail processing centers, including Everett’s, but that hasn’t won House approval.

So local postal workers will gather food for those most in need under an economic cloud of their own. “Their primary concern is for people out of jobs now,” Swanson said.

Through years of high unemployment, donations have held steady. “It’s wonderful. In what we call the Seattle district, which is most of Washington state and northern Idaho, we’ve gathered about 2 million pounds of food in each of the last three or four years,” Swanson said.

Stamp Out Hunger is the nation’s largest single-day food drive. In 2011, Americans donated 70.2 million pounds of food.

Mail carriers don’t do all the work. Bob Reese, regional executive vice president of Volunteers of America Western Washington, said the agency that oversees area food banks needs help sorting, loading and distributing food. Information on how to help is at www.voaww.org/lettercarriers.

Added to the burden of worry about their own jobs, mail carriers will do double duty Saturday.

“It’s very commendable that even in this age of cutbacks, our employer is still allowing us to pick up food. There is an impact on the carriers’ time,” James said. “Letter carriers are happy to do it. It’s a good feeling, helping out the community.”

With Saturday mail delivery possibly on the chopping block, this 20th anniversary food drive could be the last one held on a weekend.

This year especially, filling a bag with food does more than help the hungry. It shows support for an agency that keeps delivering — even as it struggles.

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

Food drive Saturday

The Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive is Saturday. To donate, put nonperishable food in a bag next to your mailbox. Needs include: diapers, baby wipes, infant formula and baby food; canned meats, fruits, vegetables and soups; dry cereal and pasta. Volunteers of America Western Washington needs help sorting and loading food: www.voaww.org/lettercarriers.

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