With record unemployment weighing heavy on food banks in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, Santa Clara, San Mateo, Solano and Sonoma counties, regional letter carriers are taking aim at history again with an unprecedented goal: collecting 1 million pounds on the morning of Saturday, May 8 – the date of the 18th Annual National Association of Letter Carriers Stamp Out Hunger Drive.
“Things were so bad for so many people on our routes that we knew we had to circle the wagons,” San Lorenzo postal carrier and Alameda County drive organizer Dennis Stecz said of the 2009 drive, which also set a record (73.4 million pounds) nationally. “We made a concerted effort to leave no can behind. A lot of my customers who donated cans really didn’t have much to spare, but told me they knew there others who were worse off. That motivates us to dig our heels in even deeper in 2010.”
On May 8, some 7,500 Bay Area letter carriers will collect bagged or boxed non-perishable food from postal customers, who need only leave their donations next to their mailbox. The carriers will transport the food back to the post offices, where it will be trucked to the local county food bank. “You don’t have to go any farther than your front door or mailbox to fight hunger,” said Redwood Empire executive director David Goodman, summarizing the logistics. Protein items, including canned fish and meats, are continually in low supply at Bay Area Food Banks.
“I have never seen bad times hurt so many people in my 34 years working here,” said Larry Sly, the executive director of the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, where a recently published study indicated a 46 percent increase in clients over the last four years. “We desperately need the help the letter carriers provide.”
Similar quadrennial studies at each of the five Bay Area Food Banks in the Feeding America network – conducted as part of a national census on hunger – belie any hints of economic recovery.
The Alameda County Community Food Bank is combating swelling hunger among children and teens, which now comprise 43 percent of its clientele. The Redwood Empire Food Bank study revealed an ever-widening gap between the haves and have-nots in Sonoma County, where the median household income of food bank clients is just $930 a month – less than one-fifth of the county as a whole. The San Francisco Food Bank study showed that 150,000 residents of that city now live at or below 150 percent of the Federal Poverty Line – an indication of chronic food insecurity – and that 84 percent of client families with children had lost a job or had pay or hours reduced during the study’s 2009 survey period. At Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties, a program that provides direct distribution to families with dependent children saw enrollment skyrocket 36 percent – to 24,453 families per month – in the last year.
“Summer looms as a scary time for parents whose children participate in school meal programs,” said Alameda County Community Food Bank executive director Suzan Bateson. “The Letter Carriers Drive helps us brace for the surge that begins when that last school bell rings.”
Since its inception in 1983, the largest single-day food drive in the nation has stocked 982.7 million pounds of non-perishable items on food bank shelves from coast to coast, making it a cinch to surpass the 1 billion pound milestone on May 8. One billion pounds of food would feed every resident of California three meals a day for a week.
“The economic downturn has affected so many families – we see it every day on our routes,” said Linda James, a letter carrier who coordinates the drive for her Sonoma County branch. “Being a letter carrier is all about service, but on May 8 we have an opportunity to do so much more for our community.”
Alameda County Community Food Bank
Brian Higgins • (510) 636-4902 firstname.lastname@example.org
Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano
Lisa Sherrill • (925) 408-7655 email@example.com
Redwood Empire (Sonoma County) Food Bank
Lee Bickley • (707) 523-7900 ext. 15 firstname.lastname@example.org
San Francisco Food Bank
Stacy Newman • (415) 282-1907 ext. 270 email@example.com
Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties
Lynn Crocker • (408) 386-5748 firstname.lastname@example.org