JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - With the Second Harvest Food Bank of North Florida facing its greatest demand for food in the agency's 28-year history, the First Coast community can come to its rescue during the May 10 "Stamp Out Hunger" food drive sponsored by the National Association of Letter Carriers.
This year's food drive may be the most important ever for Second Harvest, according to director Patrick Colley, who said the Food Bank has already provided 1.7 million meals this year - 478,000 more meals than at this time a year ago. At this rate, the demand will require the agency to secure an additional three million pounds of food during the remainder of the year in order to meet the needs of people in the Jacksonville area.
"This food drive is critically important because the Food Bank is experiencing demand like never before," Colley said. "It offers the best opportunity we have all year to bring nonperishable goods into the Food Bank that we can use throughout the summer. If everyone in Jacksonville donates one can of food, we will collect more food this year than we have in the last four years of the food drive combined. These donations will come at the perfect time."
Much of the increased demand stems from the economic challenges being faced by all Americans, starting with increased prices for gasoline and food. While those factors impact Americans of all means, lower-income families often times endure the greatest burden, which leads to a greater demand for resources from the Food Bank and the agencies its serves.
Although the NALC effort is a national event, much of the food donated in the Jacksonville area will directly benefit the Second Harvest Food Bank, which provides food to 515 community programs such as church pantries, soup kitchens, homeless shelters and senior citizen centers in 18 counties. The NALC Food Drive also provides much-needed food during the typically lean summer months when children are unable to receive the free or reduced-fee lunches that are available during the school year.
More than 100,000 pounds of food was donated to the Food Bank through the NALC event in 2007, and Colley is hopeful for more than 200,000 pounds of donated products this year. The food bank expects to distribute a total of 10 million pounds of food in 2008.
This will be the 16th annual "Stamp Out Hunger", which is the largest one-day food drive in the United States. Residents receive a postcard reminder in their mailbox during the week leading up to the event. They are asked to leave nonperishable food donations in bags or boxes by their mailboxes, which will be picked up by their Postal Service letter carriers as they deliver mail on their routes. Publix has donated bags that will be distributed to mailboxes throughout north Florida, but any bag or box can be used.
"While this drive is a lot of extra work for the carriers, they realize where the food is going - here in Jacksonville - and how much of an impact it makes," said Bob Henning, a local agent for the NALC. "All the motivation we need is to walk into the food bank this time of year, when kids are getting out of school, and see the empty food shelves. When our carriers deliver the mail, they see hungry families on their routes. This drive is a way to help those families."
Colley said the items most needed by the food bank include rice, pasta and canned meats - although he was quick to point out that all nonperishable donations are welcome.
"This is the easiest opportunity people throughout the First Coast have to reach out and help somebody in need," Colley said. "All a person needs to do is leave food at their mailbox."