On a typical day, letter carriers load up their vehicles with mail and head to the street to make their appointed rounds. When they finish making deliveries, they head back to the post office, unload their empty trays and outgoing mail and head for home.
This Saturday will be different, however, because it is the largest single day of food collection in the nation. Letter carriers in more than 10,000 communities, including northeast Kansas, will participate in the 15th annual National Association of Letter Carriers Food Drive.
For the past 14 years, letter carriers have collected more than 765.5 billion pounds of food for distribution to food banks and pantries.
Last year, for a third consecutive year, more than 70 million pounds of food were collected - enough to fill 1,500 tractor-trailers stretching for 15 miles, letter carriers say.
Alan Hickey, food drive coordinator for NALC Branch 104, said Lawrence collects between 15,000 and 20,000 pounds of food each year.
Andrew Brown of Penn House stresses the importance of this generosity.
"Large communitywide food drives like this one help provide us with badly needed supplies," he said. "The letter carriers' drive occurs at a time of year when donations typically decrease, but requests for assistance increase."
Lawrence has nine food pantries. Ballard Center cooperates with Penn House, serving an average of 225 people a month, a 62 percent increase from the first quarter of last year. The Leo Center operates independently and last year served 2,091 people in 680 households. ECKAN, Pelathe Community Resource Center, The Salvation Army and Trinity Interfaith Food Pantry partner to coordinate efforts and share food supplies. First Baptist Church and Southside Church of Christ also provide services.
A newer organization to Lawrence, Just Food, seeks to establish a more consistent food supply by enlisting local churches, grocery stores and other businesses, civic organizations and community leaders in the effort to keep pantries stocked.
"We believe that there is an abundance of food in our community and that together we can ensure that all community members have enough to eat every single day," said Ann Weick of Just Food.
Andy Tuttle, local president of NALC Branch 104, characterizes the effort as "one day of the year when we, as letter carriers, feel particularly proud of what we do. As members of the community, and people who work on a very close level with members of the community, I feel it is our responsibility to give back."
In the bag
Postal customers are asked to place nonperishable food items in a bag by their mailbox on Saturday for letter carriers to pick up.
Items most in demand are rice, dry or canned beans, pasta, tomato products, condensed or dry milk, peanut butter and tuna or canned meats.
- Bob Thurber is a fellow of the Citizens Journalism Academy sponsored by The World Company and Kansas University's School of Journalism.